Gedeon Isezerano is a student in the USask College of Engineering, and the president of the African Students Association on campus. (Photo: Chris Morin)

Black History Month: USask students celebrate diversity on campus

For Gedeon Isezerano, celebrating Black History Month is more than just a chance to highlight the achievements and contributions that Black Canadians have made throughout the country’s history.

It’s also a way to celebrate the personal connections he’s made with family and his culture as a University of Saskatchewan (USask) student.

A third-year student in the College of Engineering, Isezerano currently serves as the president of the USask African Students Association (ASA), an organization that helps USask students to connect culturally, share similar experiences and celebrate with their community.

“It’s important to have a place where you feel like you belong,” said Isezerano. “When international students are coming here from their country, they feel drawn to the [ASA] because it represents a little bit of home for everyone. It’s meant to draw people together.”

Having come to Canada from Kigali, Rwanda, over seven years ago, Isezerano said that he became exposed to indirect discrimination as he got older.

“Often times I would think whatever racial blame was placed on me was my fault or I just simply shrugged it off as an honest mistake,” he said.

These incidents have since highlighted an increasingly personal connection with the struggle for equality.

“I never celebrated Black History Month until I first started coming to the university three years ago,” said Isezerano. “In the past, I didn’t grasp the emotions that come with it. When I came to USask, I was able to read the works of Dr. Martin Luther King and I had a moment when I realized that [the history] isn’t always pretty. You see the ugly side of it as well. But there was a very human side of someone like King, and it makes you more aware of how hard someone had to fight to attain their rights. And that’s not just happening in America, but Canada as well.”

Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month in 1995. For many Canadians, the month will mark the first time they learn about black civil rights icons and Saskatchewan’s own rich black history.

To mark this history on campus, the ASA is planning a number of events, including an Afrobeat workout at the PAC and movie night during the week of Feb. 9-16. It leads up to the main celebration on Feb. 15 organized by a group of graduate and undergraduate students, with the support of various organizations including the ASA.

Isezerano is quick to point out that there are organizations such as the Nigerian Student Association and the Somali Student Association that are just as instrumental when it comes to highlighting the diversity of the campus community.

“We like to come to support each other’s events, as many of us share various roots,” said Isezerano, who volunteered with the ASA for two years before stepping up into an executive role. “For example, you can be Somali but still part of the ASA. And when we all come together there are many of us. We are a very engaged community.”

The ASA will be opening the events surrounding Black History Month to all students, staff and faculty. Isezerano said he hopes to see many members of the campus community come out to celebrate and recognize the contributions of those who have fought for human rights in Canada.

“Black History Month is not just one holiday,” said Isezerano. “It’s more impactful to have a month to remember our history and where we have come from and all the steps along the way that have brought our community to where it is today.

“This is a community that is a minority and it’s one that when you look at it historically, it’s been oppressed in so many places,” he continued. “And we are working on fixing that and it’s important to highlight the steps that people have taken to bringing us closer to equality.”

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