Celebrate African heritage in Nanaimo

It’s about celebrating culture and history in Nanaimo’s African community.

That’s the idea behind the Black History Month celebrations in February, featuring authors, singers and pioneers from Nanaimo and across North America.

“Every year I get moved by something,” said Shalema Gantt, organizer and president of the Nanaimo African Heritage Society. “Something that moves me with what’s going on in the world at the time.”

This year she was inspired by Jeni LeGond and Nadine Sims, two women and their families who broke barriers for later generations of black people.

LeGant was a successful actress, who had one of the longest contracts ever held by a black woman in Hollywood. After she retired from acting, she returned to Vancouver to teach dance and drama.

“She was one of the first black women to pave the way for us in Hollywood,” Gantt said.

Sims is a long-time Nanaimo resident whose grandfather, Louis Stark, owned a large piece of land in the Cranberry district, and whose mother, Emily Stark, was one of the first teachers at the Cranberry school.

“Nanaimo has such a rich history of black pioneers,” Gantt said. “Everything resonated legend to me.”

The society put together a lineup of influential black authors and musicians to celebrate African heritage in February, including children’s author Itah Sadu to read at the Vancouver Island Regional Library.

“She’s one of Canada’s greatest storytellers,” Gantt said.

The event will also feature a display of books by African authors. The display will be up Feb. 3-6, with a welcoming reception scheduled for Feb. 6, 4:30-7 p.m.

The evening entertainment begins Feb. 16 at the Queen’s with Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, a boogie-woogie blues player.

Eric Dozier and the One Human Gospel Choir will perform at the Brechin United Church Feb. 17, followed by a Port Theatre performance Feb. 18.

At the Port, he’ll be joined by Sweetwater, a jazz group from Salt Spring Island, and Leon Bibb, a folk musician who’s toured across Canada and the U.S.

The Global Film Festival will be screening a series of films dedicated to African themes. Workshops on hair braiding, drumming and dance will be offered as well.

“We really want to invite the community,” Gantt said. “ It’s part of our culture and our community – it’s for everybody.”

For more information, please call the Nanaimo African Heritage Society at 753-6849.

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