Written by: Youeal Abera
On Saturday, February 16, SFU’s Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) facilitated a panel discussion titled Black Spaces Matter at the Burnaby campus.
The event is part of SOCA’s Black History Month, which aims to educate SFU students, faculty, and staff, about the accomplishments and history of the African-Canadian community. The month of February was officially recognized as Black History Month by the Simon Fraser Student Society earlier this year.
With the incentive of having discourse on the significance of Black communities having access to and possession of their own communal spaces, the event aimed to also highlight the similarities between the displacement African-Canadian communities have felt in the city of Vancouver as well as SFU.
In an interview with The Peak, Giovanni HoSang, president of SOCA, provided insight on the parallels in displacement between SFU’s SOCA and Hogan’s Valley (a former Afrocentric community that was once readily accessible to Vancouver’s African-Canadian citizens). HoSang explained that the panel discussion included conversation on “the historic displacement of Black Communities in Vancouver such as Hogans Alley in the 70s, [and how it] has stark similarities with the current eviction of the SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry, our decades-long home and comfort-place on campus.”
HoSang further elaborated on the recurring struggle SOCA has had in maintaining its existence at SFU. “Previous presidents had to fight to get the space, then subsequently had to fight to keep it on different occasions, raising the importance of building solidarity and strong numbers as institutional racism is constantly showing up in very subtle forms.”
Those who also led the panel discussion shared their knowledge on the issue of displacement within Black communities. Dr. Joy Walcott-Francis, who was president of SOCA in 2010-2012, and in 2015-2016, talked about the issue of Vancouver being portrayed as a diverse, “racism-free” city.
Walcott-Francis articulated that although Vancouver may appear as a diverse city, the issues of racism and anti-Blackness are still present.
“Yes — Vancouver is a multicultural city. We can see that [ . . . ] but for me, that’s pretty much where it ends. It’s about what we can’t see. In terms of diversity and celebrating the diversity — and for persons who are of different ethnicities — not all of these ethnic groups feel or share the same experiences that they’re also celebrated,” said Walcott-Francis.
Lama Mugabo, president of SOCA in 1997-1998, stated in the discussion that these Black spaces are essential in helping Afrocentric individuals combat the forms of racism and anti-Blackness in Vancouver.
“I must admit that being together in a room talking about the future of the Black community and the issues that come up in the media or everyday in our lives has been huge,” Mugabo noted.
“Undoubtedly, spaces where we meet and are able to organize and talk allow us to really flourish.”
When asked about potential solutions that could help cease acts of displacement for both SOCA and other Black spaces in Vancouver, HoSang told The Peak about the importance of Black representation on the decision making teams of institutions and organizations.
“We need proper representation at the decision making tables, fighting on a number of fronts [so that] Black professors and Black student representation are in the decision-making bodies of the institution. [We need to] make sure that decisions about us have us at the table.”
HoSang also shared with The Peak that the notion of allyship can significantly assist disenfranchised communities in times of erasure and displacement.
“[It’s important to] keep building allyship and solidarity with multiple people to ensure that voices are heard and that we push on the decision makers to centre the voices of Black and Indigenous voices, which often get left behind in discourse,” he concluded.