Okama Brook is from Nigeria, but she’s been “coming and going” to Canada ever since 1999, after marrying her husband from Lacombe (the two met while he was volunteering in Nigeria). For many years, the couple worked for Cuso International, a non-profit that “connects communities around the world with skilled Canadians to help end poverty and inequality.” Together they worked in Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka, before starting with the United Nations in the Caribbean. The 2017 hurricane displaced them, so they went to Nigeria until the pandemic started, at which point they settled in Edmonton.
Throughout her travels, Brook found many people “who wanted to know more about the African culture, our heritage,” as well as African people descended from the transatlantic slave trade, whose ancestors had been taken from Africa and settled in different places. “Many of them were very excited to learn about the original African history and culture, and I was able to share that with them,” she says.
Those experiences inspired Brook to form the Africa Caribbean Heritage Alliance (ACHA), which she now operates out of Edmonton. This Sunday, the non-profit presents Black History Celebration Africa Caribbean Showcase.
“The event is a showcase of African and Caribbean culture and heritage. We’re going to have some food tasting, and there’s been tight competition between Ghana and Nigeria for where the best jollof rice comes from — the restaurants are excited to see which one will win.” They’ll also bring in Black-owned vendors and businesses “to showcase what they’re doing, and how they contribute to the community.”
The evening’s entertainment includes a fashion show with African attire and a live band with Timothy Noel, who has headlined shows at the Winspear Centre. There’s also a silent auction to raise some funds for future ACHA programming, and Brook will do some belly dancing, her “passion” since she learned it 21 years ago.
“I think it’s also important that the Ritchie Community League has embraced this so openly, and been so welcoming. Sometimes, Black folks are not very engaged, because perhaps they feel that the environment isn’t very welcoming. But every neighbourhood has a community league, and if they were as welcoming as Ritchie has been for us, I think it will be really great.”
Head to Ritchie this Sunday for ACHA’s Africa Caribbean Showcase, help determine the best jollof rice (and jerk chicken), then ask your community league to organize the next showcase of local Black artists and entrepreneurs.