Building Black community in Vancouver on social media

Panelists gather to discuss the importance of forming online communities

This is a photo of the outside of the Vancouver Public Library, where the event was held
PHOTO: Vancouver Public Library

By: Saije Rusimovici, Staff Writer

On February 15, the Vancouver Public Library hosted an event called “Building Black British Columbia with Social Media.” Moderating the discussion was Dr. Handel Kashope Wright, the director of UBC’s Centre for Culture, Identity, and Education. It also featured SFU student Balqees Jama, who was named one of Canada’s 2022 top 100 Black women to watch. Jama joined Debbie Forbes, SFU film graduate and moderator of the Facebook group Meanwhile, Black in Vancouver.” 

The discussion focused on how the Black community uses social media to share the continuity of its history, celebrate, and connect online. In a city where Black people have been displaced, the speakers emphasize the importance of building community and the importance of community care. 

Since the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts nearly fifty years ago, the Black community in Vancouver has not had a central neighbourhood. The viaducts were built over Hogan’s Alley in the Strathcona neighbourhood, displacing much of the Black population in Vancouver. Social media platforms like Meanwhile, Black in Vancouverare now working to create a “digital Hogan’s Alley.”

Today, the Facebook group has over five thousand members and connects Black people to businesses, services, and stores selling traditional goods, clothing shops, and healthcare. “Social media has helped because it has completely changed the dynamic in which people who are of African descent can find each other,” Forbes told CBC. She emphasized the group is private and screens members before accepting membership. The posts shared are also screened by the group moderators to avoid any duplicated content or inappropriate material.

Forbes recounts moving to Vancouver for the first time and struggling to find connection to the Black community. In 2017, when she became moderator of the Facebook group, Forbes started to feel like she had found her community. “I have not just found my people, but my tribe of progressive-minded Black people.” 

Jama reflected on how social media has provided her with a platform to connect with her peers. She and a group of others started an Instagram page called “Black and Muslim 604.” “For context, 3% of Vancouver is Muslim and 1% of Vancouver is Black.” She added, “You can imagine the intersection of how few Black Muslims there are.” Jama described the support that online communities gave her during COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests

When asked to share her message to SFU students, Jama replied: “Don’t be afraid to be political, all of our struggles and liberations are connected.” Jama also noted, “Blackness is not synonymous with struggle and trauma [ . . . ] there is a lot of diversity within Black diaspora that we do need to embrace and acknowledge.”  

She also points out that “centering community care” is an important part of Black community. “Lean on your supports and build solidarity too,” she added.

February is Black History Month, but Jama notes it is not just during this month that these issues should be considered. “Black people are Black people all year round — not just in February.” 

To connect with Meanwhile, Black in Vancouver, visit their page on Facebook. To connect with Black and Muslim 604, visit their page on Instagram @blackandmuslim604