Black Lives Matter in the Valley: What Now?

Genevieve Allen Hearn

The video of George Floyd’s murder sent chills up the spines of everyone watching. As the world reacted, Nova Scotians tried to find our place in the movement. You may have attended a Black Lives Matter protest. Perhaps you watched videos, read articles, ordered books, or shared social media posts about systemic racism. So, what now? If you are like me, this nagging question is on your mind.

I spoke to two individuals about this question: Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (VANSDA) CEO Robert Ffrench, and the Municipality of the County of Kings Diversity & Outreach Specialist Brittany Mastroianni. Both delivered very similar messages: use your privilege.

“Recognizing your own privilege as being part of the dominant culture is the first step,” Ffrench said. “Then use your privilege to have a weighted influence. You don’t have to be a person of colour to change the system. Speak up when you see discrimination. Find the openings that have always been there. Black Lives Matter is not a phrase to be used, it is a phrase to be lived.”

Mastroianni emphasized the importance of self-education and implored that we “stop looking to people of colour to teach you. It’s a lot to ask of people that may be living with multigenerational trauma.” Some concrete ways Mastroianni suggested people could use their privilege is to pass on opportunities to be on boards, panels, and other public platforms, in order to make space for diverse voices (and communicate to organizations why you are doing so). She says it’s important to ask, how we are contributing to over-representation? This had me thinking: Municipal elections are approaching – perhaps this is an opportunity for each of us to encourage and support diverse populations to run for council.

Ffrench pointed out that Nova Scotia’s hands are not clean when it comes to systemic racism and marginalization of communities of colour: “Let’s not forget that the laws in the South came from British colonies such as Nova Scotia.” He stressed the importance of getting to know our own history of colonization and racial discrimination, and pointed to Birchtown as an example of what is left out of our school curriculum.

Ffrench is cautiously optimistic about what he sees today. “Finally people are listening and there is potential for change. But the change is going to come in small increments.” In recognizing that the Black Lives Matter movement is largely led by young people, Ffrench believes it’s vital to balance this energy by people who know how to work within the system. Social justice work requires cross-generational participation and takes a multiplicity of skills and experiences. Working together is key — this movement requires the admission by dominant cultures that they have benefited from a system that is unequal, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to move toward a more equitable system.

Mastroianni is working with a Diversity Committee to develop an Action Plan for Ending Racism & Discrimination in Kings County. The action plan will include a vision forward for the promotion and delivery of diversity and inclusion programs, suggest ways to make Kings County a safer, more inclusive, and welcoming place, and recommend how the County should participate in the reconciliation process of Indigenous peoples, among other objectives.

VANSDA is also a participant in the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (DPAD), which put forward one hundred recommendations on how to address challenges impacting people of African descent. The Nova Scotia provincial government responded with an action plan entitled Count Us In: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan in Response to the International Decade for People of African Descent 2014-2024, which outlines the province’s commitment to reducing barriers and discriminatory practices, and tackling such issues as low unemployment rates, widening academic achievement gaps, and poor health outcomes in communities of African descent.

There is work being done. Let’s all find ways to support this work, call out injustices, strive for equity in all facets of community living, and use our place of privilege to lift up diverse voices. The Count Us In action plan ends with an African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We all mourned the senseless murder of George Floyd. It is now time for us to take collective action.

Writer’s Note: When you are planning your staycations this summer, make it a priority to take time to learn about our province’s African heritage. It is an important step to being an ally and learning why the Black Lives Matter movement is just as relevant here, as anywhere else. Here are a few resources to help build your itinerary:

– The African Nova Scotian Cultural Tourism Network created a cultural assets brochure and tourism guide

– Visit the 12 sites of historical significance on the Mathieu Da Costa African Heritage trail, spanning Windsor to Annapolis Royal

– The province of Nova Scotia identifies 4 heritage sites that are worth a visit including the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown and the Africville Museum