1. Black Yarmouth high school principal retires after 42 years

Left photo: Late Black community activist Aida Fells and her cousin and foster son Don Berry. Right photo: Various collage photos of Berry as part of a tribute to his retirement as principal at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School.

Last week, Don Berry, who was the principal at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, retired after 42 years as an educator. CBC and Saltwire Media both reported on his retirement, his kindness, and creative ways of inspiring students, as well as the weeklong series of activities at his school dubbed ‘Berry Days’ to honour Berry and celebrate his retirement.

In his youth, Berry was a foster child and lived at the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children for a year and a half. He was later taken in by an elder cousin, Black community activist Aida Fells.  “She was one of my cousins but she became my mom,” Berry said.

Colleen Jones at CBC caught up with Berry on his way to the school’s gymnasium where he was refereeing a student-versus-teachers volleyball game. Among the participants were African Nova Scotian teacher David Philip and African Nova Scotian student Tavarion Burke, whose mother was also a student of Berry’s.

“Wherever you go you always see Mr. Berry,” Burke told Jones. “And he’s always cheering you on and trying to keep you on the right path.”

Berry told Jones he estimates he’s taught and mentored thousands of kids both through school and sports. He says he takes pride in going the extra mile by building relationships. “I know your family, I know where you’re coming from,” he said.

“I come from the hard part of town. And back in the day, when we used to call southenders the roughest part of town, well I was born and raised there. So, somehow I’ve managed to climb up all those hills, and look at me now.”

Berry is staying on with the regional education office to help bring more diversity to the southern region of the province.

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2. Black MLAs meet with Pat Dunn as fall legislature concludes

After Liberal Ali Duale announced he would not sit in the legislature until a bill titled ‘An Act to Dismantle Racism and Hate’ was passed, he returned to the legislature last week after Premier Tim Houston invited him to be part of an all-party committee to further fine-tune the bill.

Duale’s protest came in the wake of Houston firing a staffer over racist comments they made on the social media platform Snapchat about Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds, who is Black. Simmonds and the staffer had been in at least one meeting together recently. Simmonds was also the MLA who introduced the ‘An Act to Dismantle Racism and Hate’ bill into the legislature.

Last week marked the end of the fall 2021 sitting of the legislature, the first sitting since before the pandemic while Liberal Stephen McNeil was still premier, as well as the first sitting under Premier Tim Houston’s majority PC government.

On Thursday, NDP MLA Suzy Hansen introduced legislation that would require all government departments to report race-based data, as well as gender and income levels in their annual reports.

“Because we know that data is very important in order for us to make decisions, and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle,” Hansen told the Examiner in an interview. “So we want to make sure that the information that we’re gathering is gonna be reported to us so we can base our bills and amendments on those pieces.”

Prior to Thursday’s sitting, the province’s newly formed Black caucus, consisting of Hansen, Simmonds, Duale, and former Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Tony Ince, were said to have met with Premier Houston, and white Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Pat Dunn, for the first time since Dunn’s controversial appointment.

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3. Activist El Jones urges Black people to organize in order to seek real change

El Jones

As the fall sitting of the provincial legislature wrapped up last Friday, an op-ed was published in The Globe and Mail by MSVU professor and Halifax Examiner contributor El Jones that says “African Nova Scotians should look to grassroots organizing — not representation” if looking to seek real change.

Jones points to the heavy criticism Premier Tim Houston faced by members of the Black community when he appointed a white man as minister of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and then fired two Black female civil servants — Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson and Dr. OmiSoore Dryden — as possible motivation in “Houston’s swift action in firing the staffer.”

“It would be a mistake to view these events as isolated,” she said.

She continued saying:

The uproar over the new government’s appointments and dismissals reflects how token gestures toward representation and diversity embraced by governments, universities and corporations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd do little to effect systemic change and shift power away from white institutions. One day, a premier can fire Black women. Another day, he can stand up and denounce racism by staff. In either case, the community remains at the mercy of the political calculations of those who view Black people either as a problem to be suppressed or as a tool to be used, and then discarded.

And that holds true regardless of which political party holds power. Consider the provincial Liberals: now that they are out of power, they introduced legislation aimed at dismantling racism. During their tenure, they held out against community calls toend police street checks, presided over a provincial jail system where Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately incarcerated, and appointed a former RCMP officer as the Minister of Justice. Power comes and goes, but anti-Black racism remains alive.

She cited Rocky Jones and talked about how lessons learned from the destruction of Africville and both the formation and dissolvement of the former Black United Front (BUF) can be used by African Nova Scotians looking to move the needle in seeking meaningful change.

Jones concluded by saying,

The summer of 2020 saw a mass uprising in Canada that brought Black people out into the streets in protest. Those ordinary people did not come out for a few more seats at the table; they wanted an end to Black people being killed by police and to the substandard conditions of our lives that we have endured for far too long. We cannot settle for some token appointments, a few statements, and a pledge to do better some time in the future. We must organize at the grassroots outside the system for serious change.

To read the article, click here.

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4. Nova Scotia Music Week

Keonte Beals and Aquakulture each took home three awards at the 2021 Music Nova Scotia Awards. Photos: Facebook.

After being postponed in 2020 due to COVID, Nova Scotia Music Week and the Music Nova Scotia Awards returned this past weekend and took place in Truro at the Inn On Prince hotel.

African Nova Scotian R&B artist Keonté Beals, and African Nova Scotian hip-hop artist Aquakulture took home three awards each.

Beals was named African Nova Scotian artist of the year, and took home two awards for both inspirational recording of the year and R&B/soul recording of the year for his album KING.

Lance “Aquakulture” Sampson won Hip Hop Recording of the Year for a collaborative album with DJ Uncle Fester titled ‘Bleeding Gums Murphy.’ He also took home alternative recording of the year and group recording of the year for his band’s album ‘Legacy.’

Pop duo Neon Dreams, which is Adrian Morris and Frank Kadillac, who is of African descent, won awards for both recording of the year and pop recording of the year for their album ‘Happiness of Tomorrow.’

With its longest-running urban music show, ‘Smooth Groves’ hosted by African Nova Scotian DJ Ryan “R$ Smooth” Somers, college radio station CKDU 88.1FM out of Dalhousie University won an award for Radio Station of the Year.

Halifax R&B artist Jordan “JRDN” Croucher was also in attendance and performed at the event.

A full list of this year’s winners is listed on the Music Nova Scotia Twitter account @musicnovascotia.

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5. Virtual panel on slavery and reparations

Cikiah Thomas, Delvina Bernard, and Andrea Thomas participated in a ‘Pre-Conference Event for 2023 Universities Studying Slavery Conference’, hosted by Isaac Saney, on Monday.

On Tuesday, I reported on a virtual pre-conference event for the 2023 Universities Studying Slavery Conference that took place last week, hosted by Dalhousie University, University of King’s College, and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia. The theme for the discussion was ‘Slavery and Reparations: African Nova Scotia, Canada and Beyond.’

Professor Isaac Saney, the director of the Transition Year Program at Dalhousie was the moderator. The panelists were Delvina Bernard, the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Advisor at Mount Saint Vincent University; Cikiah Thomas, the chairperson of the international working committee of the Global African Congress; and Andrea Douglas, the director of the Jefferson School — African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The panel discussion took place on the eve of a gubernatorial election in Douglas’ home state of Virginia. Douglas said the election would have ramifications on African American history taught in US schools, where the Republican candidate is against what’s known as Critical Race Theory (Republican Glenn Youngkin won last Tuesday’s election).

It also took place as the trial is underway for the suspects who were charged in connection to the deadly ‘Unite The Right’ white supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville. Douglas said it was a watershed moment for the reparations conversation in her community.

“Where I live, certainly the majority of the community did not understand reparations until there was an act of violence that occurred on August 12,” she said. “And that was when people were much more open to understanding that the nature of economic disparity, the nature of health disparity, the nature of educational disparities that they did not have any understanding of.”

“This conversation only became consumable within this space of undeniable truth. [We need] to continue to find a way to engage in the personal experience in order to make it real in that way and remove this sort of distance of history from it,” Douglas said.

“How do we personalize this and so that people see a stake for themselves in the overall conversation about reparations? Because otherwise, even Black people are not so keen, necessarily, to discuss it.”

As for reparations, Cikiah Thomas said “I think it’s embedded upon us to set the record straight.”

“It is not generally known inside or outside of Canada that Canada was a major slaveholding country and contributed significantly to the rape of Africa, and the degradation and dehumanization of Africans,” he said.

“Since the 1600s Africans have lived in every region of the country. Today, African Canadians reside mainly in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and tend to favour the urban centre. In these centres, African Canadians are at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, irrespective of the length of time over which they have resided in various areas,” Thomas said.

Delvina Bernard talked about how wealth gaps between Blacks and whites can tend to become normalized.

“Sadly, the majority, I think, of Black Canadians accept the current economic system at face value. And we don’t question, in some ways, the economic status quo, even though we’re not the benefactors.”

“These Eurocentric models of development are the very reason why African people in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in the world are largely living in a state of social, cultural, political, and economic underdevelopment.”

“Ours was not a case of pilgrimage freely and willing boarding ships to venture cross the Atlantic Ocean unbonded, unindentured, and unbounded. Rather, ours is a story of quest for freedom from cattle slavery and cultural genocide. Ours is a story of an escape plan that involved calculated risks, and the possibility of a brutal death at the hands of slave catchers [and] bounty hunters if all did not go as planned,” Bernard noted early in her remarks.

For more information on the upcoming 2023 Universities Studying Slavery (USS) conference, click here.

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Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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