As part of an unanimous vote, earlier this year the House of Commons designated Aug.1 as Emancipation Day across Canada. This day is to commemorate when Britain’s parliament abolished slavery in 1834. For Black Canadians, CBC has special programming to celebrate, educate, and reflect on what freedom really means on this day.
Emancipation Day Special
This Emancipation Day watch the CBC special; FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021. You can watch this arts special on CBC Gem and YouTube on Sunday, August 1st at 1pm / 2 p.m. AT / 2:30 p.m. NT. This special will take viewers across the country from Little Jamaica to Africville, Nova Scotia and Saskatoon. This year, this Canadian celebration will be with filled music and performances. From artists who share their perspectives on the day’s significance and the journey that got them there.
The lineup this years performers and artist will showcase a variety of blends visual arts, music, poetry, and performances by Black multi-generational Canadians. This one hour program will include Juno-nominated artists Silla + Rise, rising artist-activists such as Anyika Mark, poet laureates Randell Adjei and Peace Akintade, as well as many more Black Canadians.
FreeUp! will be Hosted by award-winning stage actor, writer, director and producer Ngozi Paul. In an exclusive interview with View The VIBE ahead of the release of Free Up! Emancipation Day, Paul discusses the importance of the performing arts in shaping social change in this generation, what Canadian audience can learn from this program, as well as what freedom really means to her.
What is FreeUp! Emancipation Day and why is it important to Canadian audiences?
FreeUp! Emancipation Day is a youth-led arts festival that celebrates freedom each August 1, Emancipation Day, the day when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834. I believe this event is an especially important one for Canadians, who still maintain some ties with the British Empire. Canada served as a beacon of freedom to enslaved people, even before the British abolition, since what was then known as Upper Canada abolished slavery many decades beforehand.
Why do you think Emancipation Day is so big in the Caribbean (and other parts of the world) but not in Canada?
Traditionally, so-called black history does not play a large role in the overall teaching of history here in Canada. Many things have gone unmentioned in our history lessons, and many others intentionally erased.
Another element is in the sheer numbers, representing a big difference between the histories and cultures of the major populations in these areas. While descendants of enslaved peoples comprise a major portion of the Caribbean population, most of the population of Canada does not share this lineage. Any end to chattel slavery, anywhere, is worth celebration by everyone, everywhere, but it makes sense that these changes would be felt and celebrated more strongly by the peoples directly subjected to such injustices.
What are the ways in which performing arts spark social conversations and political change?
I am happy to say that our efforts with FreeUp! played some role in supporting the motion passed by the Canadian House of Commons. Where they voted unanimously in favour of national recognition. Politically, I see this as performing arts and modern media amplifying the decades-long efforts of activists like Rosemary Sadlier, whose name graces our Freedom Fighter awards.
Why is it important to educate present and future generations on Emancipation Day?
Many things that happened in the past may seem unthinkable to our youth. Yet it is important for us to share an honest understanding about the various injustices that humanity is capable of. Knowing how grave our problems can be, and how we have often triumphed over them, may help prevent our becoming blind to where such injustices still persist in the world, as well as our potential to address them competently. To really know history is to be humble as we seek to serve our common causes today and to appreciate the good that we are capable of all the more.
What does Emancipation Day personally mean to you?
As soon as I learned about Emancipation Day, I knew I had to celebrate it. Our team at Emancipation Arts immediately committed to putting on an event. At a small open-mic in downtown Toronto, FreeUp! was born to celebrate freedom, particularly the historic abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. To me, it also represents how important histories can go ignored, because I did not know about Emancipation Day until years after starting my company, Emancipation Arts.
More significantly, Emancipation Day celebrates an essential evolutionary shift in society — yes, the end of chattel slavery throughout the British Empire — but more generally, a movement toward better honouring the sacred rights and liberties of individuals and people. I am not sure there is anything more compelling for us to recognize, remember, and promote, both here in Canada and around the world. As King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
What can the audience expect to learn or see in this program on August 1st?
The FreeUp! 2021 Emancipation Day special features a curated line-up of artists performing in theatres, at historical sites and iconic Canadian landmarks from coast to coast. Talented emerging artists such as Ontario and Saskatchewan Poet Laureates Randell Adjei and Peace Akintade perform alongside marquee stars like Polaris-prize winner Haviah Mighty, and celebrated mono dramatist d’bi.young. From high-energy musical acts, intimate dance performances, thought-provoking spoken word and theatrical showcases, our artists are taking to indoor and outdoor venues — all to celebrate FREEDOM!
Are there any artists you are inspired by the most in this program? (favourite music, art, or poetry that is featured in the program or viewers should look for)
That’s a tough question, because I am inspired by all of the performers. I love that FreeUp! is about creating space for new voices, and in that spirit, if I had to pick, I would say I am most inspired by ten-year-old Asher Leach, who saw FreeUp! last year and was motivated to compose an original piece on the piano.
FEATURED IMAGE: Winston Ma, CBC Marketing and Communications