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The black community of P.E.I. still seems to be a well-kept secret that is under-represented in the province, says the president of UPEI’s African Students Association.
Nkine Bissong was one of four panelists in Tuesday’s public discussion hosted by the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. at the Fox and Crow as part of Black History Month.
Bissong said one of the main issues facing P.E.I.’s black community is a hidden presence.
With fewer support systems than nearby areas such as Halifax, she described the community as a “well-kept secret” on P.E.I.
“We are just not seen. There are not enough opportunities available for us to showcase ourselves, to showcase our culture and what we have to offer,” said Bissong.
Finding more representation in P.E.I. was a common theme during the two-hour panel, which also saw a nuanced discussion that covered a range of topics, including racism in the province, how to grow the black community and the challenges facing international students in P.E.I.
One suggestion during the discussion, both from panelists and members of the audience, was that P.E.I.’s black community must form a “critical mass” to lobby government.
While she said there is a capacity at the university and on the provincial level to do more, Bissong also said P.E.I.’s different black societies must overcome divisions and pull together as a community.
“The change has to start from the society itself and the black people inside. We have to come together and support each other first. When we make that strong foundation, we can come together and try to push for change in the province and at the federal level,” she said. “We need to do more and have the capacity to do more, so there is no excuse for not doing something.”
“The change has to start from the society itself and the black people inside. We have to come together and support each other first. When we make that strong foundation, we can come together and try to push for change in the province and at the federal level.” -Nkine Bissong
Panelist Marva Sweeney-Nixon also spoke on the lack of representation of P.E.I.’s black community, which she described as feeling invisible.
For example, she said there is a lack of businesses owned by black individuals as well as events focused on the black community.
“I feel as if it’s invisible,” said Sweeney-Nixon, who also pointed to a lack of diversity on municipal councils and provincial government.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Sweeney-Nixon noted the importance of teaching Black History Month in the province’s schools, as well as the formation of Afro-centric learning centres and the Black Business Initiative that promotes businesses and helps youth get interested in entrepreneurship.
Sweeney-Nixon said some of those changes came from Nova Scotia’s larger black community coming together and pushing for that infrastructure.
“They had numbers, and over the years they became advocates and worked with government,” she said.
The panel also included Holland College student Isaiah Sealy and UPEI graduate Daniel Ikechukwu Ohaegbu, while the moderators included Luke Ignace and CeeJay Amadi.
Ohaegbu said that before talking about the provincial government, the community has to look at smaller organizations like the university itself.
“At the micro-organizations like UPEI, how effectively are they representing black communities on P.E.I.?” said Daniel, noting a lack of Black History Month events planned throughout February on P.E.I.
With about 25 to 30 people at the discussion, he also put some of the responsibility on individuals.
“We need to be woke. This is Black History Month, why is this room empty? Why are we not celebrating Black History Month? It’s more than just looking at the government. I just feel we ourselves as individuals need to start talking about this.”