From Burundi to Canada — the Significance of Black Family History for One Canadian Family

From the Official Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada

Marc and Vickie Nzojibwami with their daughter Lucie

For Marc and Vickie Nzojibwami, Black History Month has been an opportunity to explore stories of their own family as well as Black historical figures. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Nzojibwamis recognize the importance of family history and story-sharing and the impact both will have on their daughter.

“Black History Month used to be something that I would ponder and contemplate on my own,” says Marc. “After the birth of our daughter, I realized that I had a responsibility to educate her and provide a safe place for her to explore her Black heritage. Lucie is only 17 months old; however, I’ve started teaching her in small ways about Black history through books, songs and stories.

Marc parents
Vickie and Marc Nzojibwami (centre) and Marc’s parents, Béatrice (left) and Égide (right) Nzojibwami

“This year, for Black History Month, we listened to a story about Martin Luther King Jr. Additionally, we really want Lucie to know about her roots and what her family has sacrificed for her, especially her Grand-Maman and Grand-Papa Nzojibwami. They encountered a lot of racism and had to make very difficult choices in order to provide a safe place to live for their family.”

Marc notes that it can be difficult to locate and identify family names from Burundi. “Siblings in Burundi don’t share the same last name, and there’s a lot of oral family history. It could be interesting to explore and see if RootsTech can help me make a dent in my family history research.”

Thom Reed, deputy chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch International, which is the host of RootsTech, once said, “Black history is family history is … everyone’s shared history. We’re all part of a great collective of humanity, and everyone’s history is our history when you look at it” (KSL NewsRadio interview, February 24, 2021).

One way to celebrate Black History Month is to learn more about Black family history research. RootsTech, the world’s largest family history conference, will hold its annual conference virtually March 3–5, 2022. Several keynote speakers will provide information on Black family history among other family history topics.

One of the keynote speakers, Sharon Leslie Morgan — renowned genealogist, author and founder of Our Black Ancestry — will detail her journey against racism and her discovery of family.

Another keynote session will feature Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Grammy Award-winning South African choral group, and Sunetra Sarker, an award-winning actress who will share her inspiring journey of exploring and embracing her rich multicultural heritage.

Vickie parents
Wendy (far left) and Norm Nelson (far right) with Vickie and Marc Nzojibwami (centre) in 2018.

Vickie says that Black History Month has been a great opportunity to focus on their family history and to contemplate her gratitude for the sacrifices made by Marc’s family. She says, “We regularly spend a great deal of time with Lucie’s grand maman and grand papa. As Lucie grows older, I’d like to make it a time to not only enjoy their company but also listen to their personal stories.”

Marc added, “We want Lucie to know the joys of her Burundian culture.” The Nzojibwamis  read picture books about influential Black women to Lucie and teach her about animals from Burundi and East Africa.

Vickie emphasized, “I think that the way our family celebrates Black History Month will evolve each year, but my goal is to always make it a priority to celebrate it.”

Among the many stories that the Nzojibwamis will share with Lucie is the story of how they first met as children. Marc’s parents, Béatrice and Égide, were born in Burundi and joined the Church in 1985 in Belgium, where they lived while pursuing their higher education. After Égide earned his PhD, the family returned to Burundi for a time, but they eventually went back to Belgium when the Burundi civil war made it too dangerous for the young family to stay. After leaving behind their extended families, their home and successful careers in Burundi, Beatrice and Égide made the decision to move their young family to the safety of Canada.

Marc and Vickie
Vickie and Marc Nzojibwami

“Marc’s father, Égide, went to the Church employment centre when he first arrived in Calgary,” Vickie says. “My grandmother, Monica Mark, was a service missionary there. Égide told her of his five children about to start school, who only spoke French and who needed to learn English. Monica, a retired schoolteacher, offered to teach them all English. From that time forward, my grandmother invited the Nzojibwami family over for holiday dinners and other activities. From those childhood memories of spending time with Marc’s family, I remember Marc’s mother, Béatrice, the most. She was so kind and warm, and she occasionally babysat me at their home.”

Although Vickie and Marc were friends throughout their childhood and teenage years, they didn’t begin dating each other until their 20s. They were married in Calgary in 2018.

“Lucie will have a unique challenge that neither Vickie nor I will ever experience, as she is half Black and half white,” Marc says. “Race doesn’t necessarily define who you are, but it does play an important role. I hope Lucie will have the courage and the faith to learn and embrace who she is — a unique daughter of God. I hope that courage and faith will give her the stability and confidence to dive into her history and embark on a personal journey of discovering where and how she fits.”