The assistant manager of a Black business and community hub that is now housed in the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children says she hopes the space can be used in a positive way to help the community heal. 

Kinney Place in Westphal recently celebrated its grand opening. Tenants include 902 Man Up, Preston MLA Angela Simmons, and Opus Cafe. A hair salon named The Studio Lounge will open in January 2023. There’s also a seniors’ lounge, an artists’ studio, and additional spaces available for rent to Black businesses and organizations. 

“It’s an intergenerational space with a focus on bringing the community together,” said Cheyenne Jones, the assistant property manager for Kinney Place. 

Kinney Place is owned by Akoma Holdings, which acquired the assets of the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. 

In 2014, Akoma issued an apology to the former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children who said they experienced physical and sexual abuse and neglect while they lived at the home. The province also issued an official apology that same year before launching a restorative inquiry into the allegations. No criminal charges were ever laid.

Related: Committee recommends heritage registration for former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children

The former home, which opened in 1921, sat abandoned and deteriorating for years. Jones said in 2016, rather than tear it down, Akoma’s board of directors decided to refurbish and renovate the building.

“In Canada, we have seen how sites can be reused in a positive way to help with community healing and thriving,” Jones said. “We looked at some of the residential schools across Canada that have been reused as cultural centers, First Nations resource centres, and more. And those sites were led by the Indigenous community, much like Akoma, which uses an Afrocentric model.”

“We look at the opening of Kinney Place as an anniversary of that building,” Jones said. “This year it’s 101 years old. And we see the opening of a reflection of the history, all of that history, and we’ve taken that into consideration.”

Artwork on display at Kinney Place. Credit: Akoma Holdings

Jones, whose father is a former resident of the home, said part of that consideration consists of a commissioned “healing art piece,” which is on display at Kinney Place.

Jones said former residents of the home were on hand for the official opening of Kinney Place last weekend.

“We appreciate and reflect on the complete history ⁠— the good, the bad, and the ugly ⁠—with the home,” Jones said. “But now we’re looking forward and looking forward to our vision, which is creating economic opportunities for African Nova Scotians. And the only way we can do that is with the community and walking and healing together.”

Seeking volunteers

Jones said Akoma has plans for several other development projects.

She said they received funding from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative to open eight affordable units with a plan to have them ready by March. The units will rent for $650 a month. A separate committee of local housing organizations will handle the application and intake process.

Akoma is also in discussions with Northwood to create a 96-bed long-term care facility for the community, as well as a family centre for foster children. That centre will be in addition to the Akoma Family Centre currently on its property.

“We have 320 acres of land, and all of our development projects will be located on our land,” Jones said.

The Opus Cafe at Kinney Place. Credit: Akoma Holdings

Jones said Akoma is currently looking for volunteers with expertise in strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, and youth programming to help with the projects. She said anyone can get involved, but that the office spaces are designated for Black-owned, Black-led, and Black-serving organizations.

Jones said through the development process they’re contracting Black organizations and Black vendors, and are looking to hire Black people.

“This is a major development project that’s happening within our community that is a historic event for our province and what we’re doing,” Jones said. “And it’s important that word gets out there so we can continue to provide opportunities for our people.” 

“We’re doing this for us and by us, as much as we possibly can.” 

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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