LONDON, ONT. -- With February marking Black History Month, it's fitting to introduce an important part of our community, BIPOCA.

Some may ask, 'why do we need a month dedicated to Black history'?

Did you know that African people were once enslaved in the territory that is now known as Canada? Likewise, are you aware of those who fought enslavement to help lay the foundation of Canada's diverse and inclusive society?

According to the Government of Canada's website, "people of African descent have been a part of shaping Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter, whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s."

Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926 when African American historian Carter G. Woodson suggested setting time aside to honour and bring awareness to Black history in the United States.

Black History Month in TorontoWomen in front of the YWCA's Ontario House in Toronto, circa 1912 (Source: William James, City of Toronto Archives)

In Canada, the House of Commons recognized February as Black History Month in December 1995, following a motion which was brought forward by the first Black Canadian woman elected Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine.

February is now a time to reflect, learn, and understand the important contributions of Black Canadians and communities.

One such group helping to inform our community locally as well as throughout Canada is the group - BIPOCA; Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, and Allies.

Melissa Allder (who was featured in a previous Meet your Neighbour) founded BIPOCA, a platform created on Facebook where students, educators, and community members throughout Canada can speak together on various topics.

Melissa Allder, Facilitator and Organizer BIPOCA

As Allder states, "This is a platform in which BIPOC students and their allies can connect, support, collaborate, and learn from one another. As well as, educators and community members can reflect on their implicit bias, have courageous conversations, become stronger advocates and allies for BIPOC students."

BIPOCA boasts over 960 members since it began in August 2020, and allows people to come together through education.

"Education is a powerful tool and we must do our part to ensure we are doing our ultimate best to not default to the status quo, or continue what has been done the last 10, 20, 30 or 50 years ago. It did not work for BIPOC students then, and it is still not working for BIPOC students now," Allder says.

The Facebook group provides units containing topics about various challenges relating to systemic racism. BIPOCA connects students with educators allowing important conversations to take place.

BIPOCA Units on their Facebook page

To celebrate Black History Month, BIPOCA will be facilitating conversations about many informative topics through Zoom.

"This is an opportunity for members in the community to not only share their lived experiences and discuss strategies and suggestions on how to improve the education system, but it is also an opportunity for educators to actively listen, reflect on their biases and teaching practices and have an opportunity to learn how intentions and impact are connected. Yes, educators have good intentions; however, the impact on Black students should be the focus, because there are times in which the impact had a negative impact or hindered the true potential of Black students. This is something the community needs to acknowledge."

Brandon Drezan, co-host and co-chair of Unfiltered Conversations on Instagram with Allder will co-host the events throughout the month.

Session topics include Black Tokenism, healthcare system discrepancies, and advice for young Black individuals.

BIPOCA sessions taking place during Black HistoryThose interested in attending must register for sessions as spots are limited.

BIPOCA along with links to the sessions can be found on Facebook and Instagram