Twenty-five years after Black History Month was first established in Canada, keynote speaker Wanda Costen told those gathered at Saturday’s gala that working together as a community is “critical” for growth.
Born in the United States, Costen’s mother had to leave school when she became pregnant at 18 years old. Costen’s grandmother was a domestic labourer and her great grandmother picked cotton.
Now, Costen is the dean of the school of business at MacEwan University. She has a PhD in sociology from Washington State University and an EMBA from Pepperdine University. At the United States Military Academy at West Point she received a bachelor of science.
“I am not here if my grandmother does not immigrate from the south during Jim Crow,” she said. “I’m standing on her shoulders.”
Costen spoke about the importance of using the power that you have to make your voice heard.
“You have the power to vote and many of the people in this room come from countries where that power does not exist,” said Costen. “One would think you would exercise it every single time you have the opportunity to do so.”
She told those gathered there is also power in having discussions, debates and stepping out of your comfort zone.
However, she said the power of uniting as a community is the most important. She quoted Margaret Wheatley saying, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
“Diversity is being invited to the dance… but inclusion is being asked to dance,” said Costen. “You want a community working together to solve your own problems and advancing the interests of the entire community.”
She spoke about the importance of reaching out, asking for help and partnering with others in the community.
“Do not forget your responsibility to rise up and speak up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice,” said Costen.
Hosted by the Rehoboth Alliance, Fort McMurray’s sixth annual Black History Month gala was filled with speakers from the community.
David Yurdiga, MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, told guests about important local figures, including John Ware. Ware was born into slavery in South Carolina and left for Texas after the civil war. In 1882, he settled in Alberta and helped create the province’s ranching industry.
He also mentioned Fort McMurray residents Regina Oppon and Vincella Thompson, who have both been recognized as two of the 100 accomplished black Canadian women in 2020.
“Tonight we honour these amazing Canadians past and present,” said Yurdiga.
Laila Goodridge, MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche said the choice of Franco-Africans to settle in Alberta created a dynamic and vibrant addition to the francophone community.
Mayor Don Scott said he knows there are challenges, but encouraged everyone to reach out and connect.
He said that Martin Luther King Jr. was his personal hero and that studying his life and the work he did “transformed me.”
“The world can be changed through the power of speech,” said Scott. “Thank you all so very much for all that the black community contributes, not only to the community, but to all of the world and all of Canada for certain.”