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Where are all the Black people?

Udokam Iroegbu

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I’m sure you have asked, or quietly pondered this question.

Fourteen years ago, I moved to BC and quickly realized there were not many Black people here. To my count, there were only eight Black people on campus my first year, and outside of campus, I could go weeks before seeing anyone that looked like me. I also felt the absence of Blackness in the lack of salons that could attend to my hair, restaurants that prepared dishes that were familiar and cultural celebrations that fed my soul. As shocking as this was, I assumed it was because Kelowna is a small city, and I hoped this feeling of isolation would cease, once I move to a bigger city—Vancouver.

Vancouver brags of its “diversity,” rich food scene and beautiful landscape. For a moment, I allowed myself to be distracted by the myth of Vancouver as the world’s “most livable city.” However, upon further examination of Vancouver’s history, and its current socio-economic reality, I found that—like any other society—Vancouver still attempts to grapple with its unaffordability, homelessness, drug poisoning, and the anti-Black and xenophobic history and present that have shaped this city. One example of Vancouver’s wilful neglect and exploitation is the displacement of Vancouver’s only Black community: Hogan’s Alley. Sandwiched between Main St., Union St., Jackson Ave. and Gore Ave., a vibrant community made its home within a T-shaped alley.  It was the pulse of the Black community, alive and beating like a drum; it called Black Vancouverites together and created a home in the centre of the city. A quick cursory research will bring you to the list of establishments and events that made Hogan’s Alley as vibrant and sacred as it was (is). I often daydream about being on a night out with friends, dancing until our feet hurt and grabbing a late night chicken snack for the road at Vie’s.

Black folks and marginalized communities never stop dreaming our futures into existence. In lieu of Hogan’s Alley, we have created safe havens where Black people can be joyful, and free. A great example of this is the “ROUGH HOUSE,” located on the corner of 49th and Cambie. Young community organizers, international students and queer folks came together with any and every opportunity to share joyful space together. It gave us a glimpse at what having a community hub could and should be.

As we reflect on the last 50 years, socially, politically and culturally, we must ask ourselves what we want the city to say about us in the next 50 years and what can we do to get there. We must continuously examine our role as residents, neighbours and witnesses to the evolution of Vancouver.

Udokam Iroegbu

Udokam Iroegbu is an abolitionist and Black community advocate based in Vancouver. She’s a queer, Nigerian femme of Igbo heritage and an organizing member of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Udokam co-facilitates WOC Talks, a group for all women (inclusive of folks with trans, non-binary and intersex experience) to gather, heal, un/learn, and build solidarity. Udokam is a board member of Black Lives Matter Canada and the Director of Strategic Projects at Hogan’s Alley Society, a non-profit organization that advocates for Black Vancouverites, who have endured the legacies of urban renewal.