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Black history to be taught by rapper in Lower Mainland classrooms

Duane D.O. Gibson will be taking Black Music 365 across Canada
Duane D.O. Gibson will be kicking off his third annual Black Canadian history school tour called Black Music 365 on Tuesday, Jan. 10, in Chilliwack. (Samantha Pickard/Special to The News)

A two-time Guinness World Record-setting rapper will be at Lower Mainland schools to teach students about Black history.

Duane D.O. Gibson will be kicking off his third annual Black Canadian history school tour called Black Music 365 on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and will be making stops in Chilliwack, Langley, Aldergrove, Maple Ridge, and Fort Langley.

The Canadian artist uses hip-hop to teach students from Kindergarten all the way to Grade 12 about Black history.

“I go into schools and I’ve talked about Black history, but I’ve always included music as kind of a way for kids to really connect with the message and them,” said Gibson from a recording studio in Detroit, Michigan where he is filming his new video, also, Black Music 365.

“That’s how I learned about Black history,” noted the musician who was born in Watrous, Saskatchewan, and grew up in Southern Ontario, before settling in Toronto.

He listened to rap music as a child, before he expanded his musical tastes, listening also to musicians like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, and Whitney Houston – all of whom, he said, provided him with a framework of how he saw himself and what he could learn about Black history.

Gibson has been speaking at schools now for about two decades, and it has only been the last couple of years that he has focused his attention on Black Canadian history.

This tour will take him clear across the nation – from the west coast all the way to the east coast of Canada – and beyond Black History Month in February.

Gibson starts each presentation talking about Black history in general, whether that be about Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. Then he turns his focus to Black Canadians like Viola Desmond, who now graces the Canadian $10 bill, a woman who was not able to sit where she wanted to in a Canadian movie theatre because of the colour of her skin.

And, noted Gibson, it doesn’t matter how old you are, children respond to the message.

“Any kid will love going to the movie theatre and having popcorn and a drink. But when they realize that because of the colour of your skin there was a time you couldn’t sit where you want to, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can connect with that message,” he said.

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And, of course, he raps as well.

“I get all the kids rapping along with me. I do a freestyle rap. It keeps it entertaining for the kids as well,” noted the 44-year-old whose music first came out in 2001 when he had his first video on MuchMusic.

Gibson said it is important for him to be doing this because of his upbringing. His father is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where there is a lot of Black history, and his mother is from Saskatchewan, where there isn’t as much, and he said, some of the places he grew up in Ontario, he was the only person of colour in his class or school.

So, he said, he knows what it is like to feel different.

“And to be picked on and to hear things like the N-word,” he said.

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“I like being able to talk to kids and give kids a better understanding and framework of history,” he said, adding that nowadays use of the N-word is on the rise with young children, but, he explained, it’s not because they are being racist, they often don’t understand what that word means.

That’s why he finds it important to teach about Black history not only to racialized students but to everyone.

Gibson will also talk about the Coloured Hockey League, an all-Black men’s hockey league founded in Nova Scotia in 1895, and the first Black hockey player in the National Hockey League, Willie O’Ree. He also talks about Josiah Henson, who escaped slavery in the United States in 1830 and came to Canada via the underground railroad – like a lot of former slaves and enslaved people.

“A rich history of Canada is knowing we were a compassionate country and we helped a lot of people,” he said.

When Gibson was growing up he also found himself to be the only rapper in his group, so instead of his friends rapping with him, they would tell him things to rap about.

He found himself rapping for long amounts of time. Then one day his friend told him he should consider setting a world record – and he did.

Gibson’s goal is for Canadians to learn about Canadian history.

“And that’s why it’s Black Canadian 365 – because Black history isn’t something that we should just learn about in February,” said Gibson,

“It is something we should learn about year-round,” he added.

Gibson’s tour will go right across Canada with a final performance on on May 3, in West Hants, Nova Scotia.

D.O. GIBSON - BLACK MUSIC 365 TOUR of the Lower Mainland:

• Presentations are for students of each respective school and not open to the public

January 10, 2023 - Chilliwack, BC - Imagine High Integrated Arts and Technology School

January 10, 2023 - Langley, BC - Gordon Greenwood Elementary

January 11, 2023 - Chilliwack, BC - GW Graham Secondary

January 11, 2023 - Chilliwack, BC - Chilliwack Secondary

January 12, 2023 - Aldergrove, BC - North Otter Elementary

January 12, 2023 - Fort Langley, BC - Langley Fine Arts School

January 13, 2023 - Port Coquitlam, BC - Maple Creek Middle School

January 13, 2023 - Maple Ridge, BC - Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary

January 16 - January 20, 2023 - Burnaby, BC - Michael J Fox Theatre

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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