Humber’s North Space Gallery hosted the many exhibits of a travelling museum held to round out Humber’s celebration of Black History Month.
Curated and run by Francis Jeffers, the International African Inventors Museum (IAIM) features the achievements in technological innovation of persons of African descent from around the world.
“Our history of African people is always told post-slavery. The level of oppression that took place after slavery does not reflect our total existence,” says Jeffers.
By bringing in elements of the whole history of Africans, Jeffers hopes he can show youth the importance of reviving a seldom-taught cultural heritage, and why acknowledging and embracing African identity is part of empowerment.
“I am not a black Canadian. I am an African-Canadian. There’s not much logic in somebody identifying themselves as being black. You have to relate to a landmass,” says Jeffers.
The Black Inventions Museum was founded in 1988 by Lady Sala S. Shabazz. Jeffers acquired the organization in 2001, and looked to expand its focus to include all inventors of African descent across the world.
The project was expanded again in 2008 to be the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum, and include exhibits of the inventions of other underrepresented groups.
Part of Jeffers’ larger organization, the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum helps to inspire change by educating people on the accomplishments of East Asian and South Asian Canadians, and Indigenous persons.
The Learning Resource Commons at Humber’s North campus exhibited many inventors during Black History Month, including blood bank and transport pioneer Dr. Charles Drew, cataract surgeon Dr. Patricia Bath who developed the cataract Laserphaco Probe, and Elijah McCoy, who held 51 patents that helped to streamline the railroad and steam engine (and is one possible origin of the saying ‘the real McCoy’).
Jeffers has made it his mission to educate members of marginalized communities to help them make positive changes in the way they view themselves. He founded the Visions of Science Network for Learning in 1991, to engage students in the sciences, given that less than one per cent of African youth pursued the sciences. Jeffers says that the African principle of sankofa, “which means that you look back in order to go forward,” is a guiding philosophy toward empowering African youth.
It is really up to the students as to what they take away from history and exhibitions like IAIM. “Nobody can empower you,” says Jeffers. “People can assist you, they can give you some resources – but fundamentally, you have to empower yourself.”
Empowerment is only one step in achieving the ultimate goal of IAIM and its parent, CMIM. By studying history, Jeffers says that change is a very real possibility.
“We have to change the conversation in the classroom, so that everybody gets educated about what you’re doing, and you understand the struggles that people go through, and how to relate to it on a human level.”