On August 1, 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect; ending slavery in most parts of the expansive British Empire, including the collection of North American colonies that would one day become Canada. Nearly two centuries later, the Canadian government unanimously voted that August 1, 2022 would be the first officially recognized Emancipation Day.
To celebrate this historic day, the CBC will be broadcasting a two-hour special on August 1 featuring BIPOC Canadian artists, change makers, and public figures.
The show is being produced in partnership with award-winning Canadian actress, writer and producer Ngozi Paul. This is not entirely new territory for Paul, as in 2020, she produced the first FreeUp! event to honour Emancipation Day and BIPOC Canadians. However prior to 2017, Paul says she had never heard of the historic date.
“I was like beside myself that I had never heard of Emancipation Day,” she said in an interview with rabble.ca. “At that point, me and my team at Emancipation Arts vowed that we would always celebrate Emancipation Day.”
The goal of the first FreeUp! was to not only teach about Emancipation Day, but also to celebrate Black culture.
“The first FreeUp! was an open mic, and it was, like, hey, let’s recognize this and create a platform for artists to be able to express and learn about Emancipation Day,” Paul said. “It was really born out of a desire to make Emancipation Day a part of Canadian culture.”
The first half of this year’s FreeUp! show will feature BIPOC artists including Canadian hip-hop artist Shad, singer-songwriter Jully Black, opera singer Measha Brueggergosman and more. The second half will feature in-depth discussions about freedom, the future, and roles that artists play in that future.
Celebrating Black leaders like Rosemary Sadlier
Paul said that she was inspired to start FreeUp! by strong Black Canadians like Rosemary Sadlier.
Sadlier was born and raised in Toronto and served as the President of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) from 1993 to 2015. In 1995 she led the fight to have February recognized as Black History Month in Canada.
After winning that fight, she worked to have Emancipation Day recognized as well.
Paul said that it was Sadlier who first made her aware of Emancipation Day.
It was through my mom and meeting Rosemary Sadlier that I learned about [Emancipation Day],” she said. “I’m really grateful to Rosemary. I think that the work that she’s done should be really recognized.”
FreeUp! created the Rosemary Sadlier Award to recognize BIPOC artists who are outstanding in their field. This year’s winner is Canadian Jazz Legend Joe Sealy who will be presented the award on August 1 during the show.
Paul said that sharing the stories of BIPOC leaders like Sadlier and Sealy is one of the reasons why she started FreeUp! in the first place.
“They’re such rich resources with so many stories that are just waiting to be uncovered and told and shared in terms of what makes up Canada and what makes up our history,” Paul said.
The FreeUp! Emancipation Day special will be broadcast live across the country starting at 8pm ET on CBC and CBC Gem.