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CSL Elianna Yemenu interviews Cheryl Foggo

Cheryl Foggo is an accomplished author, playwright, historian, and public speaker. According to the Writers Guild of Alberta site, she is a recipient of numerous awards such as the Professional of the year by Black Gold Awards Society of Alberta and the Sondra Kelly Screenplay Award from the Writers’ Guild of Canada. A native of Calgary, Cheryl is a descendant of Black Pioneers who arrived to western Canada from the United States  in 1910. Alongside approximately 1500 African Americans, her ancestors founded 5 small black communities located in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Her cultural heritage has shaped and inspired her work as she is passionate about black history in Southern Alberta. This devotion is most recently highlighted in John Ware Reimagined , a play about an unusual figure in history: a black cowboy who contributed to the establishment of agriculture in southern Alberta.

I was granted the privilege of communicating with Cheryl, and as a black-Canadian, I was eager to inquire on her challenges in bringing exposure to black history given limited resources , and about her efforts in bridging the gap of representation.

E.Y: Growing up, did you feel pressured to compromise your identity as a black Canadian because of the apparent lack of representation in history/media?

C.F : “I found the lack of representation in literature and cultural records of black Canadians very frustrating. Although I never bent to pressure to compromise my identity as a Canadian of African descent, I did sometimes come into conflict with people because of my refusal to compromise.”

E.Y: How did it feel discovering John Ware who embodied your African heritage and your Alberta origins ? How do important figures like him influence your writing today?

C.F: “It was a thrill to learn about Ware and the contributions he made to Alberta/Canadian life.  In many ways they were our linebackers and I want their stories to be better known. As a child, I loved horses and my brother and I spent hours playing Cowboy/Cowgirl out on the open range. As we grew older and began to see that people who looked like us were not represented in the media-created world of the cowboy, we retreated from that aspect of our identity, even though it had been important to us.

E Y:  What are the challenges in writing about Ware and black history?

C.F: “There are too many for me to list. There are few details, and this is one of the main challenges inherent in writing on Ware and Black North American history. African-Americans were generally not included in census data prior to 1870; we weren’t considered important by those who were writing the narrow and biased view they had of history. Sometimes people had to keep secrets to protect those who had freed themselves by running away from their enslavers. I was fortunate, because my maternal grandmother and grandfather’s generation preserved oral history that we can now back up with official records to keep these stories from disappearing. It’s crucial to our understanding of who we are to know what our people endured.”

Upon reading Cheryl’s responses, I was reminded of how essential bringing light to the history of black-Canadians on the prairies was as I recognized that I could not name a single prominent individual.  I am fascinated by Cheryl’s drive for despite have little resources available as opposed to other developed genres, it is evident that she has worked twice as hard in her analysis and research to share the narratives that otherwise would’ve remain untold in Albertan history. Her campaign for equal representation inspired by her cultural background was refreshing, as was learning about the positive impacts black Canadians such as John Ware have made in an environment where where they are historically excluded from the records. Her contributions have ignited a new interest for me, and I am confident they will for her audience as well.

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