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Black History Month proclaimed in Olds

Heritage advisor Michelle Jorgensen requested the proclamation in an appearance before Olds town council
MVT Black History Month Michelle Jorgensen
Olds heritage advisor Michelle Jorgensen promoted a couple of books written by former residents as she urged town council to declare February as Black History Month in the community.

OLDS — This month is Black History Month in the town of Olds. 

Town council approved a proclamation to that effect during a recent meeting at the request of heritage advisor Michelle Jorgensen. 

During her presentation to council, Jorgensen noted that the federal government officially recognized Black History Month in 1995 and the Alberta government did so in 2017. 

“During Black History Month, we celebrate the many achievements and contributions made by Black Canadians, African Canadians and Canadians of African descent to our economic, cultural, spiritual and political development,” a memo in council’s agenda package said. 

“During Black History Month, all citizens are encouraged to celebrate our community’s diverse heritage and culture and continue our efforts to create a world that is more just, peaceful and prosperous for all,” it added. 

“While the observance of Black History Month calls our attention to the continued need to battle racism and to build a society that lives up to it democratic ideals, this year’s celebrations and recognition of Black History Month are especially significant as we move forward in our journey towards being a welcoming and inclusive municipality.” 

Jorgensen noted that Jan. 24 was World Day for African and Afrodescendent Culture, first promulgated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2019. 

“It is a day for us to highlight the contribution of the many living cultures on the African continent and the African diaspora around the world as well as their role in driving sustainable development, dialogue and peace,” she said. 

Jorgenson highlighted a couple of former Black residents who grew up in Olds and have written books regarding their experiences. 

One is Bertrand Bickersteth who grew up in Olds and Calgary and Edmonton and is employed by Olds College. 

Bickersteth, who now lives in Calgary, published a collection of poetry that reflects on the Black experience in the Prairies.  

“It is a great, great little book that brings in numerous historical characters of this area who are Black and of very great significance,” Jorgenson said. 

She also highlighted The Black Prairie Archive, an anthology.  

Its editor, Karina Vernon, also grew up in Olds and is now an associate  English professor and researcher in Toronto. 

Lastly, Jorgenson promoted Cheryl Foggo, a Calgary author who shares her experiences growing up Black in Calgary in the 1960s in a book called Pourin’ Down Rain. 

Foggo is perhaps best known as the producer of the film with the National Film Board on John Ware, a Black cowboy who settled in Alberta before the turn of the last century. 

“I’m pretty excited about some of those resources we’ll be sharing over the next month,” Jorgensen said. 

Mayor Judy Dahl asked if those resources are available locally.  

Jorgensen said she believes they are. If not, she said, they’re accessible online. 

Dahl also noted that Canada Post has issued a commemorative stamp in honour of 102-year-old Black Canadian singer Eleanor Collins, described as “the first lady of jazz.” 

“I thought that was amazing. And you know what? She doesn’t look a day over 70,” Dahl said to some laughter. “So thank you for sharing that.”