The theme for this year's African Heritage Month is Black History Matters.

Organizers say it's a time for everyone to listen, learn, share and act.

After a year unlike any before it, Dalhousie University professor Isaac Saney says Black History Month stands out in 2021.

"It's the first Black History Month -- African Heritage Month -- celebration since the huge multi-racial, multi-ethic, multi-national protest that emerged in the wake of George Floyd's killing," said Saney.

Floyd's death sparked renewed calls for racial justice and led to symbolic gestures across the globe.

Large groups of people kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds -- the same amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer is seen on video, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.

But Saney says those gestures must lead to action to cause substantial change.

"To policies, programs, and structural initiatives, that bring about meaningful impact in the material conditions and lived experiences that people of African decent have in Canada," Saney said.

For activist Kate MacDonald, African Heritage Month is more than just February -- it's 365 days of exploring anti-Black racism in society.

"I think it's important that we don't gas our black community out, in this month, and that we actually leave room and space for people to rest and create and experience joy because that's also what this month is about," MacDonald said.

The chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission encourages everyone in the province to educate themselves on black history, and to examine their own personal bias and stereotypes.

"I think about Black History Month, and I think to myself, we're creating the history for the future by the actions, decisions, comments we make today and every day, and I'm hoping that what we do today will shape a history that is positive," said Claire Roussel-Sullivan.

The executive director of the Black Cultural Centre For Nova Scotia, Cherry Brook, N.S., echoes those sentiments as he looks ahead to the future.

"What can we do as a society to change things that there doesn't have to be an African Heritage Month?" asked Russell Grosse. "That we get to a time where African Nova Scotian culture and heritage, and African-Canadian culture and heritage becomes common place and a household thing, an ever powerful thing that we don't have to think of it as distinct and different."

Words of hope --  and optimism -- as we gather to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians to our country's history.

Because of the pandemic, events will look different this year, but organizers say they will all be streamed online, including a concert and a virtual museum platform. Everyone is invited to attend and organizers here are hopeful that many Maritimers will join them in helping to raise awareness this month.