FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Northern Lights College held a health and wellness webinar last week in recognition of Black History Month.

Masitsa Shamalla, president of the Pan African Caribbean Association in Fort St. John and a local health practitioner,  led the presentation, offering advice on how to be allies for the black community, and how to strive for a healthy community.

A proud Canadian and native of Kenya, Shamalla has lived and worked in Northern B.C. for over five years, serving as a mental health and addictions clinician for First Nations communities.

“A healthy community is made up of healthy individuals, and therefore, if there’s injustice in the community, there’s injustice in the whole community,” said Shamalla.

“Whether we think it’s valid or not, the truth is that if we don’t pay attention, if we don’t make change, we think we’re protected because we’re doing so great, but it’s only a matter of time before that trickles down to us.”

Shamalla says this became apparent to her after working with Rwandan child refugees 10 years ago in Surrey, noting the system failed to account for language barriers.

“We take their age and place them in the class that they’re supposed to go into. With time, children get discouraged, they feel incompetent, they lose their sense of self-worth,” she said, adding the children soon dropped out of school, getting into crime instead.

After much arguing with government officials and dismissal of the issues, Shamalla says changes were implemented to address the issues.

Shamalla further expressed how diverse Africa is, with many cultures and nations contained within, noting her lived experience may vary from others. She encouraged everyone to read up on black history, nationally and internationally.

“Individuals of African descent, as you know, are as varied as seashells on the seashore,” Shamalla said. “Africa is very diverse, some countries have 10 tribes, some have 50. Each of those tribes have their own food, their own culture, their own language, their own music, their own dressing.”

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