Black History Month in Kamloops

Local lawyer recalls experience with film

Lesra Martin and wife Cheryl at their Kamloops law office. (Zain Bakhtiar/The Omega)

Lesra Martin and wife Cheryl at their Kamloops law office. (Zain Bakhtiar/The Omega)

Black History Month originated in the American colonies as “Negro History Week” in 1926. It later be­came recognized as Black History Month by the Canadian govern­ment in 1995 and is now celebrat­ed across Canada annually in the month of February.

There are no gigantic monuments erected in Kamloops to commemo­rate slavery, but it was the first city in B.C. to elect John Freemont Smith, a black man, to its municipal coun­cil in 1903. William Allen Jones, the first registered dentist in B.C., was black. A man known as the “father of British Columbia,” governor of the colonies of Vancouver Island and later all of B.C., James Douglas had roots in Barbados.

Lesra Martin is a Brooklyn-born Canadian attorney and prosecutor. He currently lives in Kamloops and is a prominent member of the Afri­can-Canadian community. In 1985, Martin was involved in securing the release of wrongfully convicted box­er Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

In “The Hurricane,” a film star­ring Denzel Washington based on the wrongful imprisonment of Carter, Martin was portrayed by actor Vicellous Reon Shannon. The film gives a glimpse of Martin’s life, particularly how he struggled with illiteracy at age 15, trying to get through the first book he’d ever purchased: Carter’s autobiography. Martin understood every word and this led to his interest of Carter’s foul conviction and gradually form­ing a relationship with the boxer.

Martin has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live and he even addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He still presents on his struggle with illiteracy, and how he became a renowned prosecutor for civil rights and aiding in the battle to prove Carter’s innocence. Martin is now a literacy ambassador for the ABC Network Life Literacy Organiza­tion.

Martin still contributes to all communities, as he believes that contributions made by the black community are part of history and should be celebrated all year long.

“That is the now, what is going on now, it is not necessarily race-spe­cific, it is contributions-specific, it is what we can do to make a differ­ence,” Martin said.

“Canada is a multicultural so­ciety and the more we learn about the contributions made by different communities, people will respect each other more and racism will perish,” said Gail Morong, co-chair of the TRU Faculty Association’s equity committee.

Morong will be hosting a Carib­bean dinner in light of Black His­tory Month, an event open to the community, to be held at the South­west Community Church on Friday, Feb. 27.