Black man selling 'Stay Strong. Stay Black.' t-shirts at an outdoor vendors market with people in the background and a playground
Cedric Smiley. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Cedric Smiley had never heard of Viola Desmond until 2019, just before Desmond was featured on Canada’s $10 bill.

“And nobody else in my country really know who she is. So I was trying to sound the alarm, and this is the concept that I came (up) with,” Smiley said during an interview at the New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming on Saturday.

The concept — and his way of paying homage to Desmond — came in the form of a t-shirt design that states ‘Not just on the map, on the money.’

It features a map of the province of Nova Scotia with a slot to hold the $10 Desmond bill.

‘Not just on the map, on the money’ t-shirt designed by Cedric Smiley. Photo: Matthew Byard

“Me being from Arizona, and coming where I come from, the irony of life, the last state in the union to rectify the (Martin Luther) King Holiday. The fact that I met Rosa Parks, you know. I marched in the streets. The fact that my first concert was James Brown, ‘Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.’”Smiley said.

“The fact that (Muhammed) Ali bought me an ice cream when I was in the eighth grade because he (lived near) my school. All of that Black culture, then I come here and find out, ‘Oh, Rosa Parks wasn’t the end-all-be-all. You heard of Viola Desmond?’ It excited me like nobody’s business.”

Smiley was one of several vendors who took part in the New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming last week. New Glasgow is the town where Desmond was arrested for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in 1946 and where she was honoured with a national historic plaque outside the theatre last week.

“I got a chance to meet Viola’s sister, Miss Wanda, I shared the concept with her, she said she would be supportive of our idea. I told her everyone in America should have a Viola Desmond ten dollar bill, she said, ‘How do we make that happen,” Smiley recalled.

Miss Wanda’s now gone on to glory, and still we’re stuck with the idea. How do we make that happen? How do we wake ‘em up?”

Coming to Canada

Smiley and his wife, Syna Smiley, from Antigonish have been married for 15 years. They first met 17 years ago when he was running a t-shirt shop in Phoenix.

“She was there on a church conference, going down the street,” he said. “And I yelled, ‘Hey, come spend some money with a Black man.’ So she doubled back on me, and as they say, the rest of it is history.”

Cedric Smiley. Photo: Matthew Byard.

The Smileys and their children lived in the US where their children went to school but they traveled back and forth between Arizona and Nova Scotia until the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The family ended up isolating in Antigonish where they now live and where their kids are being homeschooled.

Smiley said that until recently, the pandemic had put his new business venture on pause.

“This past February I was sitting around the house, and I’m saying, you know, it’s Black History Month, and then I said, ‘Time to Blacktivate, become a pro-Blacktivist, throw up my Black fist, put me on the Black list.’ You know, time to go ahead and put it into full gear man. Go hard in the paint,” Smiley said.

“We had planned to build a brand initially anyway but with COVID we hadn’t did much. And time was just passing and I figured now was good a time as any.”

Cedric Smiley. Photo: Matthew Byard.

In addition to the Viola Desmond shirts he was selling at the Black vendors pop-up shop in New Glasgow last week, Smiley’s other apparel included shirts that read ‘Stay Strong. Stay Black,’ and one that read ‘Hot From YHZ.’

“Let ‘em know where you’re coming from and going to, whether you’re here to stay or here to play, it’s all about a hot new attitude,” he said.

Smiley said more information about his brand can be found on his Revolutionary Apparel Facebook page.

He’ll also be participating in a pop-up event for Black vendors on the Halifax waterfront put on by the Black Business Initiative (BBI) on August 27.

Cedric Smiley sells ‘STAY STRONG. STAY BLACK.’ t-shirts at the 2022 New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming vendors market. Photo: Matthew Byard.

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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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