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Black History Month 2021

By Shakisha Downey on Sun, Feb 14, 2021 @ 01:41 PM

February is Black History month in Nova Scotia.

We are so appreciative that our own Shakisha was willing to share her story and some excellent resources on why we need to focus on Black History this month and every month.  

Thank you Shakisha for all you do for Halifax Learning and for sharing.

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Below are 11 articles and videos that I believe everyone in Nova Scotia should read, reflect on and consider as we start 2021. It is a lot of information BUT if we are to really examine the history of Black Nova Scotians and have meaningful and informed conversations about Black History and the experiences of Black Nova Scotians, this is a good starting point. 

I would encourage you to download and read one of these pieces each week, giving time to reflect on the social context in between. 

I chose these pieces to share because they are very close to home to me. It was not until I began my Social Work program at Dalhousie University that I realized how truly removed and unengaged I was about my own cultural history, even as a Black Nova Scotian from the largest Black community in Canada, North Preston. 

My ancestors were refugees from America and Jamaica who upon arrival to Nova Scotia were provided land in what is known today as the Preston communities. These communities were nearly impossible to build up and support efficient standards of living. Despite an incredibly rich legacy of dedication to the land they built into the communities they are today, residents of Preston still struggle for clear titles from the government to land that has now been in our families for many generations. In this way, structures in society enable the segregation of Black peoples within areas associated with and subject to poverty, crime, waste and pollution. In addition, the media predominantly portrays North Preston, in particular, as dangerous, violent, and puts emphasis on the issues of drugs, guns, and sexualized violence that the community has struggled with. These representations play a huge role in perpetuating the oppression of Black Nova Scotians as well as Indigenous populations in this province- they are strategically demonized into the position of “the others'', as depicted in these pieces.

With increasing awareness and remembering this history through literature and community engagement, I am able to recognize and critically analyze how our Black and Indigenous communities have survived on the basis of resilience, resistance and reclamation for so many years, and take action towards advancing social justice. I aim for this in both my professional and academic career, recognizing a clear connection between the opportunities for success, stability and autonomy available to marginalized communities and literacy skills. The importance of literacy to this cause is that it is essential for social and human development and expression.

Literacy provides us with skills that empower us to comprehend dynamic social justice issues that persist today and in turn transform lives, including our own.

Gbenga Akintokun. (2020, June 2). Once Upon a Black Halifax [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCFsRcOZT7A&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop

How do we ensure that the historical teachings today and in the future are presented in whats that properly represent Black people in the development of this province and the Country? We must look back and remember, and never allow ourselves to forget.  
 
Once Upon a Black Halifax discusses the history of the Black community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the struggles Black communities faced trying to achieve recognition and acceptance in our society. This history of Halifax taught in schools is very much rooted in colonial ideals of community with pockets of information regarding highly publicized Black communities such as Africville and North Preston. Though a look at Black history in Halifax reveals the richness of the Black community in Halifax and the varying achievements of its people despite continued racism and segregation. We need to continue to highlight the accomplishments and contributions of the Black community for generations to come, and not just during Black History Month. 
 
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"If you are White, you belong here, if you are Black, you are just, here." - Shindgai Nyajeka
 
Back in 1992, a number of Black students from a predominantly white high school in Halifax began working to establish a Cultural Awareness Youth Group (CAYG). The CAYG would become a vehicle for endorsing pride and self-esteem among Black students through education and cultural programs aimed at remembering the richness of their heritage and learn new ways to effect change in their communities. In particular, this video highlights the ways in which "whiteness" has historically been and remains the norm in our society including in the education system. The normative "whiteness" is maintained through institutionalized racism which holds Black people and other marginalized peoples including Indigenous communities, away from positions of power, privilege. 
 
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Hamilton, S. (Director). (1992). Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia. [Film]. National Film Board of Canada. https://www.nfb.ca/film/speak_it_from_heart_of_black_nova_scotia/

 

From 1992- 2021, has real change been implemented to make room for Black students and Black History in education?  

 
I challenge educators to expand their own understandings of history to include the unwritten and previously seldom taught legacy of Nova Scotia's Black communities and the achievements of our people. These stories are still being written, and it is not too late to encourage our students to write their own stories in bold so they will never be forgotten. 
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Side note to educators- Something to think about
 
With Covid 19, how has access to quality education differed within the Black and Indigenous communities of Nova Scotia in comparison to the predominantly white communities and schools? 
How as an educator can you reduce the gap in equal opportunities for progress and literacy amongst all your students to ensure no one is left behind? 
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I came across this article featuring a classmate of mine from High school who is finishing up his MSW. He highlights the importance of making space for Black learnings and teachers within the education system.

Acting for Change.

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https://blackspan.com/include/african-descent-education-reports.htm -

Links to a number of works on educational barriers for Black Nova Scotians from 1994- 2019.

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More states, from the government "How Are We Doing? Baseline Data on African Nova Scotian Learners"

https://dbdli.ca/wp-content/uploads/Baseline-Data-on-African-Nova-Scotian-Learners.pdf

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The Nova Scotia Brotherhood Fund expands Black Nova Scotian's Mental Health Supports (for Black men) 

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Africentric Mind, Body and Breath- A Mental health Partnership of the Black Wellness Cooperative and the Heather Association of African Canadians Funded by the Canadian Red Cross, based on yoga, breathe and mindfulness practice to open and relax the body, release tension build spiritual awareness and reduce stress.

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And of course (our continued support for)  L.O.V. E NS- HRM youth inspiration and goal achievement in academics and social skills. 

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Also, this article highlights Black Nova Scotian writer and their work and they situate themselves and their identities within our society, which is built on white colonialist agendas and frameworks.

https://roommagazine.com/7-black-nova-scotian-writers-you-should-be-reading/

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 Article on the need for Africentric counselling in Nova Scotia

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What is LOVE?

By Shakisha Downey on Tue, Jan 08, 2019 @ 01:37 PM

LOVE Nova Scotia is a charitable, non-profit organization that promotes self-expression through innovative arts-based techniques to support youth who have been subject to violence live beyond the effects of that experience. LOVE's mission is to transform this experience into meaningful, peace-making work. Through its need-specific programs, LOVE provides  youth with the skills and support needed to foster positive, healthy decision-making, and assist them to become independent leaders within their community. 

In 2017-2018, LOVE programs in Nova Scotia saw
236 enrollments.
- Leave Out Violence N.S. 2017-2018 Annual Report

LOVE's programs are available in Halifax, Sipekne'katik and Memertou First Nations, giving youth access to on-call Registered Social Workers and Youth Workers on a 24/7 basis. 


From LOVE Youth:

“This year at LOVE I learned to value friendship.”
- age 14, John Martin Junior Student
“I learned to respect women.”
– age 15, John Martin Junior High Student



Want to get involved?

For the 5th consecutive year, Halifax Learning has had the pleasure of supporting LOVE The Book Club's Annual Fundraiser. This year, we had the chance to participate in an event featuring New York Times Bestseller, Shari Lapena, as she discussed the creation of her latest thriller An Unwanted Guest with celebrity interviewer and Halifax's own, Anne Emery, award-winning author of the esteemed Collins-Burke series of thrillers.

For more information about Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia, and to learn how to participate in next year's Book Club Fundraiser, please contact Ann Sutherland, asutherland@sutherlandwatt.ca, and Pearl Michael, Board Member, LOVE NS, pearlamatheson@gmail.com.

Any contributions will help maintain their running of high-quality, youth-driven programs, as well as provide necessities such as meals and transportation to youth. 

 

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Stepping into Tough Conversations | 24th Annual Africentric Conference

By Shakisha Downey on Wed, Dec 12, 2018 @ 01:42 PM

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What are educators and community leaders saying about black students in the public education system in 2018?

This year Halifax Learning was pleased to attend the 24th Annual Africentric Conference held in honor of the No.4 Construction Battalion and the 100th Anniversary of WWI at Cole Harbour High School.

In upholding their theme of the inequality of oppression, this year the conference narrowed in on culturally relevant pedagogical approaches to supporting Black Nova Scotian students in the public education system.


About the Speakers

Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds | BA (UCCB); BCS, B.Ed., MA, M.Ed. (MSVU) EdD Candidate
Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds is an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, as well as the Director of the African Canadian Services Division in Nova Scotia. She is known for her expertise in counseling, assessment and the development of literacy programs that foster culturally proficient practice.

“There is so much work to be done…”.

Dr. Simmonds proclaims that children and youth are counting on us to create and reinforce positive and supportive pathways towards success, and those same children are running out of time for us to continue jumping through phases of conversation about change and initiative.

“They are too much at risk, and too valuable for us not to get it right, right now.”

Dean Simmonds | Halifax Regional Police Department, Inspector 
Former resident of North Preston, the oldest and largest black community in Canada, Inspector Dean Simmonds started his career in law enforcement in 1997. Working his way up within the Police force, Inspector Simmonds has maintained a major leadership role in developing and implementing a variety of workshops and training programs geared towards improving diversity, workplace equity, human rights and leadership skills. In particular, Inspector Simmonds has served as a member of the Halifax Regional Police Department’s Strategic Planning Team, HRP/RCMP Integrated Cultural Diversity Committee, and Race Relation Advisory Committee for the past eight years.

Ms. Karen Dumay | Teacher
Ms. Dumay is a Languages and Resource teacher at Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia. Ms. Dumay spoke about the messages we teach Black students about what they are capable of. In doing so, she puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

Ms. Doreen Mallett | Department of Education 
Mr. Mallet is a member of the African Canadian Services Division within the Public Schools Branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Education.

Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel | Professor
Dr. Daniel is a member of the Diversity Management Consultant & Assistant Professor at Humber College and Ryerson University. Dr. Daniel is the founder and developer of The Bridge, a student engagement and retention program that aims to increase the rates of engagement, retention and graduation amongst African, Black, and/or Caribbean students at Humber College in Ontario.

What are we working with now?

Many speakers at the conference hold the opinion that Individualized Program Plans (IPP’s) in the public school system, as they relate to Black Nova Scotian students, are:

  • sold to parents “like a used car”.
  • a sneaky way to marginalize - some parents not knowing their children were put on IPP
  • attaching incredible labels to the students that they are never able to shake. These labels hinder their academic, social, and professional development for the rest of their lives, because this modified education program targets them, making IPP, or “special ed.” their identities.

One speaker suggests:

“Putting black children in this program is the simple way for the teacher to get around the fact that they do not have the criteria to support these students in the classroom, in social education”.

 

 

What do our black students need more of?

  1. Motivation → During the conference Dr. Simmonds states that motivation needs to come from somewhere internal, to be driven by something that forces you to act even when no one is looking. This is meant as a push for those in education to step beyond their comfort zones to achieve real results, because it is in the difficult conversations that lead to open doors.

  2. Mentorship → Inspector Simmonds speaks to the exceptional push from within to do more, to make a real change in race relations in the city,  especially because of the community he is from. He credits the “tough” and “uncomfortable” conversations he had in his youth with his mentor Mr. Kenneth M. Fells for this. Remembering these critical moments in his youth, Inspector Simmonds feels they gave him the opportunity to truly realize his own potential, and gave him the power to be great. Mr. Fells’ took the time to appreciate Simmonds’ situations in order to understand his needs, Mr. Fells taught Simmonds something he will hold onto forever. That mentoring in such a way is essential to making a real differences in the outcomes of children's social and academic success in life, especially for Black children and youth.

  3. Courage → Mentors need to step out of their comfort zones to have the difficult conversation about cultural diversity, in order to make a real difference in the lives of youth, and student results.


How can we change the system?

Ms. Dumay speaks on the messages we teach Black students. about what they are capable of. She puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

In terms of making real changes to their experience, Ms. Dumay encourages:

Change Teaching Patterns
She sheds light on the importance of aspects of IPP which could make it effective that are often overlooked. One of these aspects includes ensuring IPP students are still engaging with the other students in their class and social setting, rather than isolated with their EPA “in the back of the classroom”, for instance. Ms. Damay believes breaking the stigmas associated with student on IPP will improve the overall effectiveness of the programs.

Create Culturally Relevant Classrooms

  • Relatable lesson plans.
  • Welcoming environment.
  • A relationship built on, without the assumption of, mutual respect.
  • Always considering ones unconscious bias.

Furthermore, Ms. Doreen suggests, curriculum alignment by incorporating a variety of cultural representations in the lessons and classroom materials, especially books, available to students!

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” - Maya Angelou

halifax learning spellread

Where do teachers go for support?

Identifying culturally relevant resources can sometimes be tricky if you do not know where to look. Luckily, Ms. Doreen provides a search engine for the Department of Education’s resource list on  the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau website.

Halifax Learning is pleased to offer training and professional development to educators. Do you know students who struggle to read? Do you wish you could do more for your students? You can with the evidence-based programs. 

If you are an educator with resources to share send us a note and we'll spread the word! Email media@halifaxlearning.com


What happens to these student once they leave high school?

Dr. Daniel emphasizes the importance of teaching black students self worth.

“The lack of understanding throughout society of the cultural pains and successes we encounter as a people should not minimize black students’ visions of themselves.”

She encourage students about the importance of breaking through the lens of failure that “blackness” is framed in and tasks educators to create environments for students to thrive. Dr. Daniel believes  such environments enables a sense of empowerment and appreciation for oneself.

So what can we do as Educators, and especially Black Educators?

Accept the responsibility of:

  • To be a motivating force! 
  • To be a mentor and accept the task of replicating one’s own success onto the younger, vulnerable generation before us. 
  • To be a courageous by stepping into tough conversations and making real change. 

Where does Halifax Learning fit in? 

The science is clear. All children can read well. 

“I first started at Halifax Learning, as an office administrator,” says Shakisha. “But we are now shifting my role to take on more outreach, to create more partnerships with communities who may not have access to such literacy programs and see what we can do together to encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds to get serious about their journey to literacy. I can relate personally to these kids on a lot of levels. Now we have an opportunity to build positive programs to support these youth in academic success.”

From Recent Grad's Career Journey Comes Full Circle. Read the full article here

We are very proud of our clinic student results and our growing list of community outreach work. Breaking down the barriers and challenges families have to access our programs is key to making sure no one gets left behind.  

If you have a student that you feel would benefit by SpellRead’s evidence-driven programming, please contact us

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