1. Black history and African Heritage Month

African Heritage Month, Dwayne Provo, Tim Houston, and Pat Dunn

Events for African Heritage Month were held across the province in early February, including a virtual proclamation by the province, hosted by Dwayne Provo, the Associate Deputy Minister of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

The event featured performances by Keonté Beals and speeches from Russell Grosse on behalf of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and Krystal States on behalf of the Black Educators Association. A number of mayors from across the province issued their own proclamations for African Heritage Month, and Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. LeBlanc unveiled the official African Heritage Month 2022 poster.

Premier Tim Houston, issued the official provincial proclamation, and Pat Dunn, African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister was also at the event.

“I am honoured to virtually join you in today’s African Heritage Month celebration,” Dunn said. “It is wonderful to see so many communities across the province holding local celebrations to kick off this important month.”

“I hope all Nova Scotians take part in the African Heritage Month events during February. And please use this time to reflect on African Nova Scotian history and the role you play in creating positive change.”

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2. Angela Simmonds running for the Liberal leadership

Angela Simmonds. Photo: Nova Scotia Legislature

On February 4, Preston MLA Angela Simmonds was the first person to announce she is running for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party.

“I’m definitely not new to building trust and relationships … I’ve had my own business, but also worked in education and employment, and raised a family, and went back to law school at 36. So balancing priorities is an asset that I can bring,” Simmonds said.

Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill has since announced he is also running for the leadership. Former Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince was on hand at Churchill’s official announcement.

In an interview with the Examiner, Simmonds talked about her campaign for the leadership. Simmonds also talked about an ongoing investigation about her and her husband, Halifax Regional Police Supt. Dean Simmonds’ accusations of racism towards the Cole Harbour RCMP, and RCMP Supt. Jeremie Landry leaking alleged details of the ongoing investigation.

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3. Wanda Robson passes away

Wanda Robson and nine-year-old Tayte Douglas at a 2017 unveiling of ‘The ABC’s of Viola Desmond’ at William King Elementary School. Photo: Rae-Leah Douglas.

Wanda Robson, the younger sister of the late Viola Desmond, passed away last month at the age of 95.

A letter that Robson wrote in 2009 to the mayor of New Glasgow where Desmond where arrested and convicted for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in 1946 helped lead to Desmond receiving the first posthumous pardon in the province’s history in 2010.

“Besides being a mother and grandmother, Wanda was the author of a bestselling autobiography, a motivational speaker who spoke to dozens of schools across Canada, an award-winning storyteller, and importantly an advocate for justice for her sister — the beloved Nova Scotia and Canadian civil right icon Viola Desmond,” wrote Robson’s friend David Woods in a Facebook post following her passing.

In 2017, Robson wrote the forward in a children’s book, ‘The ABC’s of Viola Desmond,’ which was written by a class of students from Grades 2 and 3 at William King Elementary School in Halifax.

Tayte Douglas, a Black student who served as one of the book’s co-authors, and her mother Rae-Leah Douglas spoke to the Examiner about Robson showing up to the school unannounced to help launch the book, as well as meeting her on several occasions that followed.

“It was pretty clear that [Robson] was pretty proud of this book and the fact that the kids were involved in it, because she also made sure that that group of kids from the school were invited when they unveiled the $10 bill at the library,” Douglas said. “And that was an invite-only event.”

“They all got to see her see that $10 bill for the first time.

“She just really enjoyed the company of the little kids around her,” said Tayte. “She talked to me a lot, she was very fond of me, and I was very fond of her because she was really nice.”

“I just feel like a part of her existence,” she said. “Just a very kind person, and it was very sad to hear that she passed away.”

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4. The legacy of Richard Preston

The Examiner spoke Isaac Saney, a Black history professor at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s, about the life and legacy of the late Reverend Richard Preston.

Preston was a former slave from Virginia who made his way to Halifax following the War of 1812 in search of his mother who he ended up finding in the community of Preston from which he took his surname.

Preston was a preacher in the US and went on to become an ordained minister and founded several Black churches in Nova Scotia that were part of the African Baptist Association (ABA). That organization, which is now known as the African United Baptist Association (AUBA), is the oldest and longest-running (and still active) Black institution in the province.

The first church that Preston founded was on Cornwallis Street in Halifax and was called the African Chapel. It later changed its name to Cornwallis Street Baptist Church before recently changing its name to New Horizons Baptist Church in an effort to distance itself from the legacy of Edward Cornwallis. The church is currently under renovation and has recently launched a campaign asking people for donations of $190 each in conjunction with its upcoming 190-year anniversary.

Preston died in July of 1861 and was buried on Crane Hill in Preston, on or near where Grandview Golf and Country Club now sits.

“It’s important to understand that, for the Black community, the only institutional material available was the church itself,” Saney said. “The church had to play multiple roles,” Saney said. “It also became an advocate on issues of getting more land. Later on, after Preston’s death, it becomes an advocate for challenging segregated education.”

“To call Preston the father of the African Nova Scotian community is not an overstatement,” Saney said. “And he was seen as the leader. He was tremendously well respected. Preston was extremely charismatic, a hard worker, eloquent, articulate individual who could mobilize the community.”

Preston’s name is one of several the city of Halifax is currently considering for the renaming of Cornwallis Street.

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5. Canada’s first all-Black fire hall to be repurposed

Aiden Anderson, Gina Jones-Wilson, and Lennett Anderson at the future site of the Elizabeth Mantley Youth Recreational and Cultural Arts Center. Photo: Dean Anderson / YouTube.

On Pockwock Road in the Black Community of Upper Hammonds Plains there’s a building that used to house Canada’s first all-Black volunteer fire department.

After being decommissioned in 2013 the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Development Association has since re-aquired ownership of the building and its property. The plan now is to develop it into the Elizabeth Mantley Art and Youth Recreation Centre, named after the late Elizabeth Mantley, who donated land for the creation of the department.

Gina Jones-Wilson is the president of the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Development Association. She is a retired fire lieutenant and was the department’s first female member. Her father and the father of Lennett Anderson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, were founding members of the department.

Jones-Wilson and Anderson spoke to the Examiner in separate interviews about the creation and history of the former fire hall, its role as a community gathering place in addition to a fire hall, and the efforts to re-acquire the building and the land and turn it into a space for youth in the predominately-Black community of Upper Hammonds Plains.

“And I said to Gina, ‘Yes! I believe that we need to repurpose the space on purpose, with purpose,’” said Anderson. “And she said, ‘I love that theme: Repurpose on purpose with purpose.’”

In a church service, Anderson called on Elizabeth Mantley’s daughter Doreen Mantley to thank and honour her mother for her efforts in donating the land.

“My family and I would like to thank you, everyone who worked to keep the fire department in the community, and for the recognition today. Love and blessings from me and my family. And thank you, Pastor Anderson,” Mantley said.

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6. Family Over Fame

Family Over Fame billboard on Main Street in Dartmouth. Photo: Alex Ross.

Last month, local Black-owned clothing company Family Over Fame increased its ad reach with two large billboards in Halifax and Dartmouth, as well as 40 ads on 40 different Halifax Transit buses throughout the city.

The brand’s founder Alex “Cunny” Ross spoke with the Examiner about the new ad-campaign, his background growing up in Uniacke Square, as well as the founding of Family Over Fame and his second clothing brand Alex Ross Clothing.

Ross said that despite growing up around a lot of violence and drug dealing, he had a strong foundation at home and was able to both keep his nose clean while maintaining a solid reputation in his community.

He said that when he released a series of t-shirts to help promote his hip hop music album Family Over Fame, his community was eager to support him and encouraged him to take things further.

“So, once I heard that coming from residents from my community I was like you know what, it actually would be smart to invest, to turn this into a business, and let’s see where it goes,” he said.

“They just knew who I was, they knew I was a kid who loved playing basketball. Anytime you would see Cunny walking on Gottingen you would always see him with his basketball, with his backpack, or see him with his headphones on.”

“We wanted to take our advertising to the next level. We wanted to show Black youth and Black businesses that anything is possible in terms of showing your face on a billboard,” he said. “I just wanted to be one of the guys and one of the businesses to pave the way and show them like, we can do this, too.”

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7. Murder investigations / $150,000 reward

Left photo: Brandon Reginald Polegato. Right photo: Joseph Beals.

Last month marked the one-year anniversaries of the homicides of two Black men in their mid-20s in Halifax and Dartmouth last year.

On February 7, 2021, the body of Brandon Reginald Polegato was discovered just before 9pm in the hallway of an apartment building on Washmill Lake Drive in Halifax. Police said Polegato “succumbed to gunshot injuries.” He was 26.

On February 20, 2021, 25-year-old Joseph Beals was the driver of a single-vehicle collision on Mount Edward Road and was discovered with life-threatening injuries from a gunshot wound just after 2pm. He died later in hospital.

Last month Crime Stoppers said they believe there are people with information who could help solve the murders and issued calls for anyone with information to come forward.

Last month the province also announced a $150,000 reward for anyone with information leading to a conviction into the homicide of Beals.

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8. Open letter criticizes Halifax Board of Police Commissioners

The Examiner published an open letter from more than 60 people and organizations saying that the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners missed the mark on public engagement with respect to a January 31 public engagement session on the Halifax police budget.

“When the Board agreed to host the special meeting on January 31st, it also scheduled the budget vote for the same evening – not giving Commissioners time in between to truly digest the public’s feedback, or consider its impact on the HRP budget request,” the letter states.

“Last Monday night’s special meeting was supposed to be an opportunity to gather rich, community-driven data that reflected multiple perspectives and demographics. The Board fumbled that opportunity.”

The public engagement session followed and was prompted by recommendations made in a report looking to define defunding the police that made 36 recommendations and was made available to HRM staff in October 2021 before being made public in January.

The letter describes the engagement session as “an adversarial debate, not a community forum,” after kicking off “with statements from Police Chief Kinsella, setting the tone for the remainder of the session.”

“To further amplify the hostility towards community participation, HRM Chief Administrative Officer Jacques Dubé added commentary undermining public presenters by suggesting that they misunderstood the process at hand,” the letter states.

“Regardless of where members of the public actually stand on the issue of defunding, it is evident that treating engagement as nothing more than a box to tick makes the process itself meaningless. It makes you wonder: was this an engagement session, or a disengagement tactic?”

“Kinsella in his turn could provide no reliable data on officer attrition, data that has been specifically requested since December by Commissioner Harry Critchley (a co-writer of the report). After more than an hour “in camera” where Chief Kinsella made a private case to the Board for more funding, away from public scrutiny, the Board returned to approve everything he asked for.”

The letter also cited “a self-study commissioned by the Board in 2016 revealed that “the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners has failed to meet its legislated governance requirements under the 2006 Police Act for the past 10 years.”

It went on to list 10 suggested changes the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners should make to its future budgetary processes.

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9. Portrait revealed of city’s first Black police officer

Portrait unveiled of the late Sinclair Williams, the first Black police officer on the Dartmouth Police Department. His son, Evan Williams, and wife, Dolly Williams, pose with the portrait. Photo: Halifax Regional Police.

The late Cst. Sinclair Williams from East Preston was honoured last month when a portrait of him was unveiled at Halifax Regional Police headquarters where it will be displayed.

In 1968 Williams became the first Black police officer for the former Dartmouth Police Department, one of the Halifax Regional Police’s predecessor departments prior to amalgamation in 1996.

“Cst. Williams passed away in 2014, but his legacy continues with a scholarship fund in his honour,” HRP said in a statement. “Chief Dan Kinsella was honoured to be joined by Dolly Williams, the wife of the late Cst. Sinclair Williams and her son, Evan, who are pictured here for the unveiling.”

The portrait was painted by African Nova Scotian artist, Letitia Fraser.

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10. Blacklantic launches

Photo: Blacklantic.ca

The first day of Black History Month saw the launch of Blacklantic, a new podcast, website, and media platform aimed at amplifying the voices of people of colour throughout the Atlantic provinces.

Its founders and podcast hosts, Clinton Davis and Hillary LeBlanc, spoke to the Examiner about the platform’s creation, their plans for it, and their backgrounds.

Davis grew up in Toronto and as a kid visited PEI, where his mother is from. He says he didn’t experience overt racism growing up until he started visiting Moncton when his parents moved there in 2009. He later moved to Moncton where he now resides.

LeBlanc said she experienced racism growing up in Moncton but learned to normalize much of it. It wasn’t until she moved to Toronto as an adult, where she now resides, where she says she began to experience a sense of comradery with other Black people. She said that opened her eyes to much of the realities of racism in her home province.

Davis and Clinton met as former co-hosts of a similar podcast platform, Black In The Maritimes, which is also based out of New Brunswick.

Blacklantic.ca features not only links to past episodes of their new podcast, but also a series of blogs written by Davis and Clinton, as well as Black New Brunswick contributor, Savannah Thomas.

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11. Black In The Maritimes

Black In The Maritimes creator and host, Fidel Franco Mosquea. Photo: Fidel Franco Mosquea.

The creator and host of the Black In The Maritimes podcast, Fidel Franco, also spoke to the Examiner last month about his platform, its creation, and some of his background.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Franco moved to Moncton in 2010. He describes being shocked when observing many of the specific ways systemic racism manifests itself in North American society, particularly in New Brunswick.

He said he was one of only a small handful of Black workers at a call centre where he met Marcus Marcial, who is Black and from Saint John. He said he and Marcial would compare notes about a lot of the racism they witnessed and experienced in New Brunswick. From those conversations, he said is where the idea for the podcast came about.

Over the years, Black In The Maritimes has had various teams Black of co-hosts (including Hillary LeBlanc and Clinton Davis), partnered with media organizations such as CBC, and has featured many Black guests such as Ontario NDP MP Matthew Green, former Ontario Liberal-turned-independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and two-time guest, Halifax poet and author George Elliott Clarke.

Since speaking with the Examiner, Franco invited me as a guest on Black In The Maritimes to talk about some of my background.

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12. Halifax Black Film Festival

The Halifax Black Film Festival released a series of six virtual panel discussions last month titled the ‘Black Market Series.’

The panels and moderators were predominately Black. And though most of the discussions dealt primarily with television and film production, one discussion, ‘Can Media Really Make or Break Us?,’ focused on the topic of diversity in the news media.

I took part as a panelist for the discussion along with University of King’s College journalism instructors Brian Daly and Trina Roach, Mi’kmaq community member, Jarvis Googoo, Black community member DeRico Symonds, and Black community member Amber Fryday, a Global News reporter who moderated the discussion.

The entire Black market Series is available to watch for free by clicking 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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