MC Suzan Richards left, and Global Community Alliance President Yomi Pratt pose with the
Mary Ann Shadd commemorative stamp
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

Saturday 24 February 2024.

Black History Month: Celebrating Diversity and the Resilience of Black Canadians

By Ijeoma Ukazu, Editorial Associate

On a crisp February evening, with a hall filled with anticipation and excitement, over 150 people—a diverse mix of federal, provincial, and municipal leaders, community advocates, and everyday heroes and sheroes—gathered to honour the rich legacy of Black Canadians.

L-R Mrs. King, Councilor Rawlson King, Black History Ottawa President June Girvan, Police Chief Eric Stubbs and Mrs. Diane Stubbs
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

Though halted for three years due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Ottawa’s vibrant and passionate Black community came together this year to mark its 12th Annual Gala and Award Ceremony hosted by the Global Community Alliance to celebrate Black History Month, with the theme “Black excellence: a heritage to celebrate; a future to build.”

The gala held at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel marked the grand finale of a month-long celebration that had unfolded across the nation in different capacities.

To herald this year’s event, the government of Canada unveiled Mary Ann Shadd, an abolitionist, educator, publisher, and lawyer, as a featured image on a 2024 Canada Post stamp. The stamp featured the only image of Shadd, adorned in purple with a floral background and the provincial freeman crest beneath her likeness. This tribute is likened to one who is a trailblazer and who continues to inspire generations.

MP Marie-France Lalonde, left, presents the Youth Achievement award to Daniella Iheozor
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

Shadd’s legacy is one of groundbreaking achievements, and her tireless advocacy remains a significant influence on the intellectual life of the United States and Canada in the 1980s. She gave a human face to her favourite motto, “Self-reliance is the true road to freedom,” in her active role in seeking aid for runaway slaves while encouraging them to move to Canada.

Black History Ottawa Vice President Jean Marie Guerrier addresses the guests
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

This annual event was not just any gathering; it was the brainchild of two remarkable individuals: Kelly and Yomi Pratt, who co-founded the Global Community Alliance. Their vision was to create a space where Black excellence, resilience, and contributions could shine brightly.

In their opening remarks, the duo acknowledged the Honourable Greg Fergus, Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada, Senator Bernadette Clement, Marie-France Lalonde Member of Parliament, City of Ottawa Councillors Rawlson King and Matt Luloff, and Trustee Donna Dickson of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board for their commitment to continue to inspire and impact positively by creating the needed change in Ottawa.

RBC Vice-President Huen Knox addresses the guests
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

While guests were seated, Doretta Charles-Epale serenaded the crowd with literary spoken words using poetry that preached about Black resilience. Over the years, Charles-Epale has used her literary practice to preach conflict resolution. Her artistic expression and spoken word performance continue to resonate with audiences, celebrating African heritage and culture.

Some major highlights of the event featured award winners, including Godwin Ifedi, editor and publisher of Black Ottawa Scene, who received an award for a decade of excellence in publication for the Black community and the courage to make a difference.

Black Ottawa Scene Editor Godwin Ifedi, right, receives Global Community Alliance award for a decade of excellence

A documentary that featured Ifedi as a visionary leader who started the publication to fill the void of a needed black community newspaper in Ottawa. The documentary captured the objective of the magazine, which is to illuminate the overlooked voices of the black community, showcasing their various pivotal roles and leadership roles.

Black is beautiful! A bevy of black beauties graced the gala

Other Global Community Alliance awardees include Nicole Phillips and Mario Deller, both of whom received professional achievement awards. Brenda Elizabeth Williams received the business achievement award, while Nabil Ahmed and John Adebisi Adeyefa won the award categories for community builders. The awardees have demonstrated tireless efforts in building the black community in Ottawa.

The youth, too, had their moment: 11 young people received the youth achievement awards: Ghada Ahmed, Laetitia Abou Assali, Amy Zhang, Anthony Nguyen, Nyanhail Domac, Joud Housasari,Shanaz Sabir, Sami Ghozlani, Malaika Kamanzi, Daniella Iheozor, and Franol Duressa.

While guests enjoyed their dessert, saxophone entertainer Ben Joseph, with the stage name Sax N Sip, performed smooth jazz and soulful melodies as his music resonated with the audience, creating an atmosphere of joy and relaxation, and a performance by Maeesha B blended a powerful R&B vocal style that kept the audience relaxed—each artist a rising star.

As the night unfolded, stories intertwined. Laughter, applause, and heartfelt speeches filled the air. The gala wasn’t just about celebrating the past; it was about igniting hope for the future.

The keynote speaker, Senator Bernadette Clement, acknowledged the essence of community and implored older persons to open spaces for mentorship to lure more youngsters into community activities.

Keynote speaker Senator Bernadette Clement Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

Presenting a donation from the event proceeds to Brenda Reisch, the Executive Director, Children at Risk, Ottawa, Yomi Pratt thanked the organization for the work they do for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Part of the services and programs provided to the families of these children includes behaviour, communication, and social skills, amongst others.

Vote of thanks by Global Alliance Vice President Kelly Pratt
Photo copyright Black Ottawa Scene

And so, under the glittering chandeliers, the Global Community Alliance reaffirmed its commitment: to honour the past, celebrate the present, and build a future where Black excellence thrived.

All photos copyright Black Ottawa Scene

Ijeoma Ukazu

Ijeoma Ukazu is a Master of Journalism student at Carleton University, Ottawa.