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SLAA attends Black History soiree in Fort McMurray

By  | 7 March 2020 at 16:19 | 1438 views

Four men, nine women, and one little girl, travelled over 400 kilometres in a minibus, from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, on Saturday 29 February 2020. They were all representatives of the Sierra Leone Association of Alberta (SLAA). Together, they braved the wintry weather to attend a celebration of Black History in that northerly part of Alberta, later that day. Dr. Abu Conteh, their president, led the excursion.

The event was the 6th Annual Banquet and Awards Night. It was organized by Rehoboth Alliance and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), with the theme “A Celebration of Black Life, History and Culture.’ The gala took place at the Shell Place Grand Ballroom, with academic Dr. Wanda Costen (photo) as guest speaker. The MCs were Dr. Vincella Thompson and Sandra Efu

Dr. Conteh took the stage during formalities; having been invited to make a statement on behalf of SLAA. He described the invitation as an honour, observing that such an opportunity for a black person like himself would have been a mirage, decades ago. He gave examples of discrimination faced by black people in Canada. “Whether you’re at school, at work, you will see challenges,” he said. The SLAA president who is also a science lecturer at McEwan University in Edmonton, spoke about ways to improve the black experience here. He called for hard work and perseverance among individuals, and cooperation and initiatives among communities. He commended Black communities and the people and Government of Canada. “We are pleased that the contributions made by people of Black heritage are also being recognized.” Dr. Conteh concluded his speech by thanking and congratulating Rehoboth Alliance and RMWB for organizing the event. “We salute Black History Month and all the accolades that go with it. We look forward to more of such good work, including incorporation of more about Black History into the school curriculum.”

SLAA delegation at Fort McMurray

Guest speaker Dr. Wanda Costen was captivating as she spoke. She called on Black people to work hard and not squander what others have fought so hard to achieve so far. A US citizen with a military background, Dr. Costen spoke on the black experience in her home country. She compared it with her experience as a black person working in Canada.” This (Canada) is a great place to live, despite the frigid cold,” she said, “I’m treated far better here as an African American, than I am treated in my own country.” She noted that the US has a history of oppressing black people. “My country barely acknowledges slavery,” she stated. Dr. Costen is Dean, School of Business, at McEwan University.

Eddie Lee-Johnson with wife Rebecca and son Jayden

Another dignitary who took the podium was Gilbert Weekes. A civil engineer and reputable business owner. Mr. Weekes’ spoke about his personal experience as a Black person with Jewish heritage. To him, a black person’s race is the first trait others notice, regardless of his/her credentials. His company Yanagil Management Ltd. was one of the sponsors of the Black History soiree. Mr. Weekes hails from St. Vincent and The Grenadines, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. He opened his heart and home to SLAA: letting several people spend the night at his house at no cost. Even the little girl felt at home; feeling free to play with the variety of toys belonging to Weekes’ own child.

Other hosts were SLAA members Reverend Kenneth Oppon, his wife Regina Oppon, and their daughter Sophia. It was Mrs. Oppon who formally invited SLAA to Fort McMurray, as executive director of Rehoboth Alliance. Based in Fort McMurray, the organization is dedicated to helping youth, women, children and their families achieve their goals while respecting their individuality and recognizing their diverse and sometimes challenging needs. Mrs. Oppon is an honoree for the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women 2020. “Aunt Regina has the tact for bringing people together for noble cause,” one the SLAA delegates said about her. “It’s God’s gift to her.”

Academics Dr. Abu Conteh and Dr. Wanda Costen

Another Sierra Leonean family hosted a second set of delegates. Five of the visitors lodged with Eddison Lee-Johnson, his wife Rebecca, and their son Jayden. The Lee-Johnsons are active SLAA members who live in Fort McMurray. Rebecca literally opened her kitchen to the visiting ladies of the Sierra Leone Women’s Group. It was a festive atmosphere as she facilitated the guests’ own preparation of supper and then breakfast.

Dr Conteh and four other members of his executive team made the trip. They are Ivan Jackson (Vice-President); Charles Roberts (Secretary-General); Dorcas Kargbo (PRO); and Monica Deen-Conteh (Assistant PRO). Other delegates were Daniel Oldfield (Chairman of the Media & Social Networking Committee); Martha Yei Caulker-Mbayo (President of the Sierra Leone Women’s Support Group); Memunatu Conteh; Mrs. Eudora Conteh; Mrs. Juliette Jackson; Mrs. Isata Cochrane (nee Magona); Martha Sellu; Mrs. Rachel Fallah; and little Ivanette Jackson.

SLAA members with their hosts Ken and Regina Oppon at Gilbert Weekes’ house

Assistant Secretary-General Foday Conteh and Media Committee member Lawrence Davies, did not travel with the contingent but both attended the gala. Conteh works in Fort McMurray and joined the party after the day’s shift. Davies too used to work in Fort McMurray as an IT consultant. He drove his own vehicle for the round trip.
Fort McMurray, fondly called Fort Mac, is officially designated an urban service area. Technically it is not a city. The place is located in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, in northeast Alberta. Fort Mac is in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands, surrounded by boreal forest. It has played a significant role in the development of Canada’s petroleum industry. A severe wildfire in May 2016 led to the evacuation of its residents and caused widespread damage. The place is gradually growing back, after that disaster.

The Fort McMurray Black History ball was sponsored by Heritage Canada, RMWB, First United Church. and firms like, Yanagil Management Ltd., TD Bank, CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation), Suncor, Coverall, Don Scott Law Office, Syncrude, and Unifor.