Black History Month events put on hold

By James Raiswell
A local organization has hit a major roadblock in its plans to celebrate Black History Month in February.

Internal staffing problems At Black History Ottawa have forced the organization to cancel the opening ceremonies planned for the beginning of next month, and the annual Hip Hop Fest—a celebration of hip hop, dance and rap music—has been postponed until 1999.

Black History Ottawa chair Jacquie Stewart says the decision was made because the organization has recently hired an entirely new executive.

“As with any small community organization, there aren’t any guidelines in place to allow for a smooth transition between executives,” she says. “Now we’re back to square one as far as co-ordinating events goes. We have to fill some key positions before we can get down to planning any events. Right now, we’re missing a funding co-ordinator, a promotions co-ordinator and a program co-ordinator.”

Both members of Black History Ottawa’s previous executive board recently retired.

As a result, the organization has been unable to come up with the $300,000 it needs to stage the Hip Hop Fest and the opening ceremonies.

Ewart Walters, publisher of the Spectrum—a monthly newspaper which covers Ottawa’s black community— and a former member of Black History Ottawa says that, while federal government funding has been on the decline, Black History Ottawa did not cancel the events for this reason.

“Because of the change of executive, Black History Ottawa is in a crisis of personnel, not one of finance,” he says. “The organization is able to fund itself through its events and fundraising drives, but right now it hasn’t been able to attract enough people to fill its key positions.”

But while Stewart describes next month’s celebrations as “a total write off,” she says there is a positive side to the issue. Volunteers who were originally scheduled to perform in the Hip Hop Fest have stepped forward to lend a hand in fundraising for Black History Ottawa.

“When I found out that the Hip Hop Fest had been cancelled, I talked with Jacquie [Stewart] and offered to help,” says volunteer Natalie Dixon, adding that Black History Ottawa is planning a fundraiser for Feb. 27.

According to Stewart, the recent events have convinced Black History Ottawa to plan events throughout the year, rather than in February only.

The Black Designers’ Showcase has been rescheduled for March, and the Black Artists’ Showcase for April.

Anyone interested in volunteering can attend a meeting Jan. 26, at 7 p.m., in the Routhier Community Centre at 172 Guigues St.