The end of February wraps up Black History Month. In Canadian history, this celebration was officially recognized in 2008, thanks to the efforts of a former senator by the name of Donald Oliver.
The aim behind this month of acknowledgment is to bring forward not only the struggle historically faced by the black community in Canada, but also to acknowledge the plethora of accomplishments and contributions to society made by black Canadians. The celebration that spans across the month of February also hopes to educated individuals about the intricate cultural and community practices of individuals in the black community.
To conclude Black History Month, we are showcasing a leader in the black community here on campus who, through her dedication, is working to provide a safe space for black students to express themselves and celebrate their individual cultures.
Elisa Umuhoza is a third year student currently enrolled in Peace and Conflict Studies at Waterloo and is currently the president of the UWBASE, the Black Association for Student Expression. BASE is a club on campus that “promotes the acceptance of black expression and creates a space for individuals to come celebrate and learn about their roots and cultural heritage.” They also host highly anticipated annual events such as Afro Day and Showcase Your Roots. As president of the club, Elisa strives to create an inclusive environment and a strong, proud community.
What is your role as president of BASE?
As the president, I have a responsibility to help students that come here from all around the world stay attached to their roots. This club is a space that allows people from overlapping identities (such as Afroblack or Afro-Carribean) to come together and learn and support one another.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
My main goal as a president is to build an inclusive community and sometimes this can be very hard to do. There is a lack of diversity in the Feds office and the administration in the school, which can make it very difficult to look to leaders in order to help fund community events. Part of my job description is also to find and appoint a president for next year. This is also difficult because I really want to pick someone who I know will further our community.
Why is Black History Month important to you?
It is extremely important because it allows students to feel like their culture and identity is valued and important. We are able to celebrate with one another and share our experience as black individuals and feel that others are interested and supportive of our heritage
What does success with UWBASE look like to you?
Success with UWBASE for me comes in the form of love and acceptance of all, as well as the success of all of our members. We strive to be a supportive space for our brothers and sisters, a space which reflects the spirit of perseverance in the face of obstacles, and the spirit of mutual camaraderie.
What are some of your favourite events held by UWBASE on campus?
My favourite event hosted by UWBASE is our annual throwback party "Fever", which is held at the beginning of every fall term. It is held in the Bombshelter Pub, and therefore very much accessible to the student population. The party has a dress-up component, and the best-dressed person wins a prize for their throwback outfit. The night is always filled with so much joy and life! The most talked about party of the fall term in my opinion.
Another event which I truly love is "Afro Day" because it celebrates a very politicized aspect of black people's appearance, and that is our hair. We've heard back from students who have told us how this event and UWBASE's presence on campus has enabled them to feel free to be their natural selves, hair included. I say this because I was one of those people in my first year.
It was during Afro Day specifically that I began questioning why I had been putting chemical relaxers in my hair all my life. This train of thought led me to going natural a few months later. Events such as these, and the impact they hold are the reason I ended up president of this incredible association.
Learn more or get involved with UWBASE.