Free Up! Emancipation day is premiering on August 1st on CBC Gem and is a variety show that will feature Black Canadian artists as they express their freedom through various means of art like music, poetry, and dance. The show will include several  Afro-Indigenous Canadians like Haviah Mighty,  d’bi.young anitafrika, Anyika Mark, Randell Adjei, Peace Akintade and Silla +Rise. 


What does Emancipation Day mean to you and how significant is it for people to know about it, especially in Canada?

As soon as I learned about Emancipation Day, I knew I had to celebrate it. Our team at Emancipation Arts immediately committed to putting on an event. At a small open-mic in downtown Toronto, FreeUp! was born to celebrate freedom, particularly the historic abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. To me, it also represents how important history can go ignored because I did not know about Emancipation Day until years after starting my company, Emancipation Arts. More significantly, Emancipation Day celebrates an essential evolutionary shift in society — yes, the end of chattel slavery throughout the British Empire — but more generally, a movement toward better honouring the sacred rights and liberties of individuals and people. I am not sure there is anything more compelling for us to recognize, remember, and promote, both here in Canada and around the world. As King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Why do you think Emancipation Day is so big in the Caribbean (and other parts of the world) but not in Canada?

Traditionally, so-called black history does not play a large role in the overall teaching of history here in Canada. Many things have gone unmentioned in our history lessons, and many others intentionally erased. Another element is in the sheer numbers, representing a big difference between the histories and cultures of the major populations in these areas; while descendants of enslaved peoples comprise a major portion of the Caribbean population, most of the population of Canada does not share this lineage. Any end to chattel slavery, anywhere, is worth celebration by everyone, everywhere, but it makes sense that these changes would be felt and celebrated more strongly by the people directly subjected to such injustices.

Which artists are you most inspired by when it comes to who is being exhibited during the variety show?

That’s a tough question because I am inspired by all of the performers. I love that FreeUp! is about creating space for new voices, and in that spirit if I had to pick, I would say I am most inspired by ten-year-old Asher Leach, who saw FreeUp! last year and was motivated to compose an original piece on the piano.

How do you hope Canadians feel after watching this variety show?

I hope that viewers find themselves curious about what freedom means to them and to others, how they can cultivate freedom, as well as feeling enriched by witnessing many different forms of reflecting on it. I hope they feel a sense of community, become curious about our history, and their own civic engagement. 

What can you say about the special, and about Emancipation Day, in general, that will get fellow Canadians to watch it and learn from it?

In the wake of a culturally explosive couple of years, let’s look back through the centuries and celebrate how far we have come, and let’s set the stage to work together now for an even better future. We are living history. How will we honour our ancestors and what do we want future generations to say about us?

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