More than Good Intentions in the Workplace

 This picture is a compliment to my son David Divine

This picture is a compliment to my son David Divine


More than good intentions and open minds: We all have a responsibility to end unconscious bias in the workplace

Unconscious bias is defined as “social stereotypes, attitudes, opinions and stigmas we form about certain groups of people outside of our own conscious awareness.”*

What is interesting to know is that virtually all bias is unconscious. For example, we learn to trust women to be nurturing and men to be powerful. We develop biases towards people and behaviours throughout our lives. We learn to align with people who act or look a particular way, preferably those who act and look most like ourselves.

I spent eight years at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) as the Manager of Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion. This position gave me autonomy and the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people in all aspects of the private and public sectors. Being mandated to take human rights training from NSHRC was an absolute failure for some organizations. Some did not know that treating all people with respect and dignity was important for a healthy work environment, and for the growth and economic sustainability of our province. Diversity and inclusion continue to be major challenges, and many people remain consciously and unconsciously biased toward those who are different.

After leaving government, I started my own business with the intent of continuing human rights education. I discovered that human rights, and diversity and inclusion, appeared to be irrelevant in some workplaces. While many organizations displayed the obligatory posters of a woman or person of colour, the message I received was a lack of inclusiveness in the workplace.

I was curious to know how organizations could spend time and money on this topic but not see change. What was holding them back? There was little change in numbers of diverse people in business, government, and the private sectors. Many people from equity-seeking groups felt they were not being promoted to senior positions, were not valued for what they could bring to decision-making tables, and there was a continued lack of diversity on Boards.
My research led me to the work of Doctors Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji. I immersed myself in the study of unconscious bias and immediately knew that I had embarked on an area that had not been recognized or addressed in Nova Scotia. It took me some time to help leaders realize they had a challenge, and in order to make a difference in their organizations and bring about real cultural change, they had to work to shift mindsets and begin to tackle unconscious bias in their workplaces.

My breakthrough came from a most unlikely source, and what can only be described as one of the toughest work environments: the Canadian Armed Forces. I delivered training in a predominantly male environment where participants were not afraid to ask difficult questions or respectfully challenge my thinking when they felt uncomfortable.

I applaud the leaders, including base commanders, diversity managers, and the Defence Visible Minority Groups for their vision and willingness to address the issues in the workplace. As a result of my work with the Forces, others began to ask questions, and my services have extended beyond the province of Nova Scotia.

Working with very hierarchical organizations, I quickly learned about my own strength of character and abilities, and that I too had a lot to learn as I challenged my own biases.

I assessed my own thoughts, actions, and perceptions of “the other”, accepting difference and my overall experiences with people. I had to check in on myself and give family and close friends permission to call me out on my behaviour.

Where do these biases come from? It is important to recognize that social conditioning, belief systems, stereotypes, and cultural upbringing all have influence on behaviours and decision-making. Over the years, television, newspaper, and other print media, as well as social media, has a profound impact on judgments about how we profile others.

I became aware that I could have good intentions, an open mind, and still walk into a room and make assumptions about a person’s colour, gender, or ethnicity. So unconsciously, my biases manifest themselves.

With this new self-awareness, I respectfully double-check my actions, attitudes, and behaviours that may lead to someone being denied an opportunity or continuing to experience discrimination when I have the power and level of accountability to make those decisions. And I accept the feedback from others close to me about my actions, attitudes, and behaviours.

The simple fact is “human beings are consistently, routinely, and profoundly biased”, and if our biases go unchecked they lead to poor decision-making. +

As our workplaces become increasingly diverse, unconscious bias is considered the new form of discrimination , impacting who gets hired, promoted, and has access to special favours or projects.

Unfortunately, even though we have laws to address discrimination, unconscious bias is very difficult to prove in a court of law. Overcoming unconscious bias is very much dependent on individuals developing their emotional and cultural intelligence so they can recognize and value what each person has to offer in any situation. Only then will we create truly diverse and inclusive workplaces.

* Howard J. Ross. 2014. Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgements in Our Daily Lives.
+ Ibid.

Ann Divine, Founder & CEO, Ashanti Leadership

Ann Divine is founder and CEO of Ashanti Leadership and Development Services, and provides career and professional guidance in leadership development. Ann’s work is underpinned by her knowledge and expertise in human rights and people management. Her unique style combined with adult education principles has brought her recognition in the fields of leadership development, change management, coaching and mentoring, facilitation, diversity and inclusion, and more recently unconscious bias training. 

Ann has lived on three continents and worked in diverse organizations and communities in senior management positions in London, UK, and Canada. She has a Sociology (Hon) Degree; a Diploma in Social Work; a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, Human Rights; and a Coaching Federation Certificate, Adult Education and Leadership Development. Ann is a popular public speaker on social justice, leadership development, and inclusivity. Recently, she provided her informed commentary on the issue of racial profiling at Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12, 2018, to Thompson Reuters media. In November 2017, she received an award from My Halifax Experience as one of the Top 25 Immigrants in the Maritimes. In April 2018, Ann was nominated as one of RBC’s Top 25 Immigrants. For more information, visit 


About My Halifax Experience 


My Halifax Experience is a multimedia publishing platform, celebrating the similarities and differences of people choosing the East Coast of Canada as their new home. 

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Top 5 Immigrant Women Influencers in Halifax

Photos Joseph Robichaud, Tanglewood Studio For our tenth issue, My Halifax Experience is proud to …


Top 5 Immigrant Women Influencers

So proud to share this space with friends and women influencers as we attempt to make a difference in our province.

"To celebrate our 10th edition, we have chosen to highlight immigrant women of influence. "One of the keys to strengthen the economic and social fabric of this region is diversifying who gets a seat at the table. I am passionate about the role of women in the future of Halifax" IE"


Interview - CBC Information Morning Interview - Unconscious Bias


I was interviewed this morning by Portia Clark, CBC Information Morning, along with Shakira Weatherdon regarding the unfortunate and hurtful comments made by Elizabeth Smith-McCrosssin, MLA me about Jamaicans in the House of Assembly two weeks ago.

Helping people understand their own biases

Nova Scotia Conservatives may be about to get some sensitivity training after the MLA for Cumberland made some head-turning comments earlier this month. The party's interim leader has suggested all the party's MLAs may get cultural sensitivity training. Shakira Weatherdon is an equity and inclusion consultant at the NSCC. Ann Divine is the CEO of Ashanti Leadership and Development Services.

Shared from Listen to CBC Radio's live streams and shows on demand.


First African Canadian Woman to Chair Halifax Chamber of Commerce

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Congratulations to Cynthia Dorrington who made history today by becoming the first person of African descent and African Nova Scotian to take the Oath of Office to become Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce 2018 - 2019. This was a very proud moment for those of us who witnessed the Signing Ceremony. Cynthia Dorrington will now head the organization whose vision and mission is to make our city prosperous, vibrant and one of the best places to live and work in Canada. We wish you every success.

A great day for Women, Women of Colour, Girls.


I also loved Mayor Savage's gift. He took off his Diversity Pin and gave it to Cynthia Dorrington as a welcome gesture. Very touching!!

My commitment is to become a more active volunteer and ambassador.

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce is a best-practice, business advocacy organization that continuously strives to make Halifax an even more attractive city in which to live, work and play.

Together, the approximately 1,600 member businesses and their over 65,000 employees, act as a single powerful voice through the Chamber to promote local business interests. The volunteer board of directors and chamber staff undertake initiatives by request of, and on behalf of our diverse membership.

The Chamber is the first in North America.

Pay It Forward

 Picture Courtesy of Woolford London (Guyana 2018)

Picture Courtesy of Woolford London (Guyana 2018)

Recently the term “Pay it Forward” is being used a lot in the workplace or coming up in conversations with people when discussing voluntary work. For example, when I say to people, “I am giving back to my community”, consciously or not some people feel obliged to rephrase my statement by saying “Pay it Forward.”

 Others have asked me what does "Pay It Forward" means?

It is the new language of choice for saying, “I am giving back to my community.”

So, what does this notion or idiom of “Pay it Forward” mean?  In essence, if someone does a good deed for you, in turn, you will give back to someone else without expecting anything in return.  Pay It Forward can be done anywhere but it must be done with the right mindset.
 It must be altruistic, in honesty, with integrity and for the best intentions.

This concept started in 1851, when it was first referenced in a book by Robert A. Heinlein, “Between Planets” but became popular in the movie “Pay it Forward” in 2000, when Haley Joel Osment plays a young boy who develops the concept of “pay it forward” for his class assignment and started a chain of good deeds.

In essence “Pay It Forward” are selfless acts of good deeds you do because someone did it for you or simply because you believe it is the right thing to do.

Who Can “Pay It Forward”?

     Anyone can Pay It Forward.
     Organizations can collectively give support or funding to a community group.
     Individuals can donate money but it can also be done anonymously.
     Schools are great at Pay It Forward
     Churches are often recipients but can also give.

What if I don’t have anything to give?

We all have something to give:

     Just giving your time, 
     Sharing your knowledge, and expertise.
     Giving someone guidance. 
     Helping someone shape their business ideas.
     Mentoring a new member of staff.
     Finding a young person to support.
     Being a good citizen without expectations.
     Giving up your seat for someone.
     Letting the person go in front of you in the line.
     Doing something in your community.
     Do something for free.

Paying It Forward are simply acts of good deeds as a human being and citizen of the world.

I believe that every day I am the recipient of genuine, random or even conscious acts of kindness.

This can be in the form of a note from my family at home and abroad, friend or a former colleague.

Someone taking the time out of their busy schedule to send me a message – often from around the world.

Thanks to social media, people who may view my various platforms will send me comments, likes, congratulations and on occasions an invitation to speak or work inquiries. 

Try “Pay It Forward” or give back to your community.

New Opportunity

Ann 2yrs.jpg

I am thrilled to be listed in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission's External Resources Training Roster. This is a major accomplishment to be recognized by my former employer and colleagues for my knowledge and expertise in the field. My passion continues to be ignited when I am working with people in organizations, institutions and diverse communities contributing to transformational and digital changes by empowering individuals in our workplaces to acquire new skills and remain relevant.

Thanks to ALL for this opportunity.

"New Beginnings" by Retired Professor David Divine

 David Divine

David Divine

I continue to be inspired by my husband of almost 34 years. Today, at our Rotary Club Halifax Northwest, he returned and completed Part 2 of his talk "New Beginnings." One Club member commented that "it was the best talk he had heard in 20 years." And invited him to become a member. My take away "Major life decisions are not momentary incidents whose effects are like smoke disappearing after a while. The impact of such decisions flow throughout your life afterwards. Sometimes we are unaware but the impact influences our later conduct and thought." David Divine. I think this statement is so powerful. So proud of you honey.

Nominated for RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards 2018


Through timely innovation, strategic thinking and smart execution, the recipient of this award has built and managed one or more successful businesses over a period of 10 years. With a proven track record of growth, profitability, and industry leadership, this entrepreneur’s exploits have generated an uncommon degree of economic growth, and she has shown to possess the drive, managerial acumen and leadership traits that others aspire to have.

A Proud Moment


Thanks to the Centre for Women in Business (CWB), at the Mount Saint Vincent University for including me in their International Women's Day 2018, Breakfast Brochure. Sorry I missed the occasion because I was participating in another event.
I felt truly honoured and wish the Centre continued success in their efforts to be inclusive. I've always felt supported and valued by their team members. The CWB is truly a great place to learn about business.
Thanks Johanna for sharing this with me.

Recognition of Women Leaders - international Women's Day 2018

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A great experience today. Meeting the Premier of Nova Scotia, The Honourable Stephen McNeil and Minister for the Status of Women, The Honourable Kelly Regan who were recognizing the work of women leaders in our community on the eve of International Women's Day, March 8, 2018.

Members of Diverse Voices for Change Halifax visited Province House today, March 7, to be recognized for their work to increase the number of women from diverse communities who are engaged in local government decision-making.

Front row:

Chanae Parsons; Association of Black Social Workers

Huwaida Medani; HRM

Ann Divine; Black and Immigrant Women’s Network

Lorraine Whitman; Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association

Donna Standingready; First Nations woman of Dakota/Cree descent

Rana Zaman; Immigrant/ Migrant Women of Halifax

Minister Kelly Regan, Minister Responsible for Status of Women

Shelley Fashen; Department of Health and Wellness

 It was also great meeting my fellow Rotarian Neil Ferguson, Chief Clerk of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.

It was also great meeting my fellow Rotarian Neil Ferguson, Chief Clerk of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.

African Canadian Women Doing Business

African Canadian When Doing Business AHM 2018

African Canadian Women Doing Business - African Heritage Month 2018

This event was our third annual event in partnership with the Halifax Public Library  and the Black and Immigrant Network Association to celebrate African Heritage Month. Many of our women would not normally have a platform to showcase themselves. Inviting women of colour to share their story and success in business has been empowering, enriching and rewarding. 

Our speakers were Lezlie States, CEO, Maritime Elite Girls Basketball Academy, Amanda White, Quantity Surveyor and Crystal John,  CEO for the Learning Centre in Mulgrave Park. Celebrating our success, sharing stories of triumphs, and failures has taught us that about the strength of our collective voices. 

We were privileged to have prominent community leaders present including Ms Tracey Crawley from Crowning Glory Hair Salon.  It was a opportunity ask questions, share answers and encourage the young business owners in the audience individuals like Jasmine Marsman.

African Canadian Women Doing Business

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The Black and Immigrant Network Association are hosting their 3rd Annual event, African Canadian Women Doing Business in Nova Scotia, celebrating African Heritage Month and honouring our Women Business Owner.
In collaboration with Ashanti Leadership and Professional Development Services, and the Halifax Central Library on February 22, 2018, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm.
Meet our three guest speakers.
Crystal John, one of the few Executive Directors among us. 
Amanda White, the first African Nova Scotian female Quantity Surveyor in the construction industry.
Lezlie Lezlie Carol States, founder, Maritime Elite Girls Basketball Academy.
They will be sharing their experiences and journey to success with us.
Join us for this exciting event. Please invite family and friends.
No registration necessary.

African Heritage Month - Honouring Black Canadian Women: Strength, Courage and Wisdom


The Honourable Mélanie Joly,

Minister of Canadian Heritage,

  is pleased to invite you, on behalf of the Government of Canada,

to a reception to celebrate Black History Month

on Monday, February 12, 2018, at 7:00 p.m.

(Doors will open at 6:00 p.m.).

This year's theme is "Black Canadian Women: Stories of Strength, Courage and Vision". 

Refreshments and appetizers will be served.

A cash bar ($) will also be available.

Paid parking ($) will be available in the underground lot of the

Canadian Museum of History. 

This invitation is valid for one guest only and is non-transferable. 

Please note that ID will be required upon arrival.

Canadian Museum of History

Grand Hall

100 Laurier Street

Gatineau, Quebec

K1A 0M8 

RSVP before February 5, 2018

Business casual







L’honorable Mélanie Joly,

ministre du Patrimoine canadien,



a le plaisir de vous inviter, au nom du gouvernement du Canada,

à une réception pour célébrer le Mois de l’histoire des Noirs



le lundi 12 février 2018, à 19 h

(les portes ouvriront à 18 h).



Le thème de cette année : "Femmes canadiennes noires : des histoires de force, de courage et de vision".



Des rafraîchissements et canapés seront servis.

Un bar payant ($) sera également disponible.



Des places de stationnement seront disponibles dans le

stationnement souterrain ($) du Musée canadien de l’histoire.



Cette invitation est valable pour un invité seulement et est non transférable.



SVP notez qu’une pièce d’identité est requise à votre arrivée.





Musée canadien de l’histoire

Grande Galerie

100, rue Laurier

Gatineau (Québec)

K1A 0M8


RSVP avant le 5 février 2018

Tenue de ville




Celebrating Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission 50th Anniversary

 All pictures in this article are courtesy of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission December 8, 2017.

All pictures in this article are courtesy of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission December 8, 2017.

I was honoured to join in the celebrations with friends and former colleagues at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission's 50th Anniversary.  The NSHRC will always hold a special place in my heart and be credited for assinting in building and strengethening my professional career in strategic management and leadership development here in Nova Scotia, Canada.

As a woman of colour and immigrant it is often difficult to secure a position in management but the NSHRC recognized my talents (Micheal Noonan, Acting CEO and Krista Daley, CEO), by appointing me as Manager, Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion. This position enabled me to engage with staff, deputize for the CEO, report directly to the Minister of Justice , and train business owners and staff about human rights, change management and staff development through out the province. It enabled me to gain significant knowledge about organizational behaviour and design. Thanks to all those who contributed to my continued success.


Here is a great article from the National Post that highlights key points in the speech:

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Are human rights still relevant Today?

 Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

I believe that Human Rights are still relevant today, as they were 70 years ago when the Member States signed the United Nations Universal Declaration. As well as in 1967, when Nova Scotia Human Rights legislation was passed to protect the rights of those who denied fair treatment and injustices. It is the Rights of all peoples to have their voices heard – women, minorities, people of African descent, persons with disabilities, youth, LGBTQ, the poor and marginalized, and those who will emerge as different in the eyes of our ever-evolving societies.  Those of us who seek to advocate must continue to do so. Today we live in an environment where attempts are being made to intimidate, harass, and silence defenders of human rights. We owe it to the next generation to "Stand up for Human Rights." 

We must be prepared to pass on the mantle, and with the same vision the founding members, commissioners, staff, politicians and the public had signed up for decades ago.

In 1992, some 25 years after the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission was founded and legislation passed in 1967, this is what their vision for the next 25 years was:

The vision of the Commissioners in 1992, "It is the year 2017 and the Human Rights Commission is commemorating its 50 years of operation. The Race Relations Division is pleased to offer the following report, as a result of the process, programs and procedures launched twenty-five years. 

  • The consciousness of the oneness and wholeness of the human race has been firmly established throughout Nova Scotia society.
  • Police services throughout the Province have achieved fair representation of First Nations, racial and ethnic groups.
  • We now live in a society in which racial minorities no longer feel inadequate, or inferior, not where majority groups people feel superior or act in condescending ways towards others. (Pachai, B., 1992)

The Commissioners futurist vision as listed above believed that it is within the capacity of Nova Scotians to achieve equity, diversity inclusion in our society.

Even though legislation has been established to hold people accountable for their discriminatory behaviours, individual segments of our communities continue to face barriers to success.

Every day, across our province people continue to face racism and discrimination at work while purchasing goods and services, denial of opportunities and mistreated because they are different. In 2013, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and students at the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design conducted a study in the community based on issues occurring in people lives. The results were capture through images.

More recently, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission was invited to research the controversial Halifax Police Street Checks data related to persons of African Descent.

Every Nova Scotian has rights which are protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act 1967, and need to feel confident that if there is an allegation or complaint, they can seek help and guidance at the Nova Human Rights Commission.

How are you protected in Nova Scotia?

There are 17 characteristics which you are protected and cannot be discriminated against.  They are Age; Colour; Race; Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Association; Sex; Religion; Disability; Ethnic Origin; Mental Disability; Political Belief; Affiliation; Physical Disability; Family Status; Creed; Source of Income; Irrational Fear of Contracting a Disease; Sexual Orientation and Marital Status. (NSHRC Know Your Rights)

Under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, there are seven areas where discrimination is prohibited:

  • Employment
  • Housing and Accommodation
  • Services and Facilities (stores and restaurants)
  • Purchase or sale of property, Volunteer, and public service
  • Publication, broadcasting or advertisement
  • Membership in a professional or trade association. (ibid)

Over the years, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has had a unique role in our society. As an independent government agency tasked with administering the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, it has been the instrumental in breaking down stereotypes especially those about women, and other diverse groups. The leaders were ahead of their time. They were actively engaged in challenging issues about the unfair treatment of disadvantaged groups to foster diversity and inclusion.

The pioneers, trailblazers, and leaders in the community had a clear vision about the future of human rights because they were informed about the issues of the day which impacted their communities and equipped themselves with the necessary tools to bring about transformative change. 

Syliva Wedderburn, a Champion of Champions 

 Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

You will not find her name recorded in the history books among the greats, nor a plaque hung on the walls of honourees or even recognized for her quiet contribution to the medical profession or the formation of the Nova Scotia Human Right Commission and other significant historical events in Nova Scotia. 

For almost 60 years Sylvia Wedderburn has devoted her life to serving Nova Scotians of all ethnicity through her work as a head nurse and the only black female manager in the various hospitals in the city of Halifax and Dartmouth. 

Sylvia Wedderburn knows only too well the sacrifices women like her make on behalf of their family members and who are there side by side or behind their famous spouses or companions such as her husband as the late Gus Wedderburn.

On Sunday, 10 December 2017, International Human Rights Day, we invite our family and friend to celebrate by recognizing Sylvia Wedderburn as a Champion among Champions for courageous efforts, being a trailblazer and her outstanding contribution to the province of Nova Scotia.

She is loved, adored and admired by her family and friends around the world as a phenomenal woman, who can be counted on to bring cheer to any audience with her sweet sounding melodic tones. Everyday Sylvia made her contribution to human rights by assisting excited yet timid young parents to bring a new life into our world.  She challenged the establishment about the lack of progress for black people in the medical profession. While at the same time raising her own family, and supporting her husband with his professional career, political, community initiatives and aspirations.

Sylvia Wedderburn is a woman of gregarious spirit who is deeply compassionate and unabashedly authentic.  A retired pediatric nurse, who often and spontaneously breaks out into song, Sylvia has been blazing trails since she was a young woman, leaving an indelible mark on those with whom she has and continues to touch. 
She has been described as a woman who has an extraordinary gift for human kindness. Born and raised in New York, just outside Harlem, by her Jamaican parents who immigrated to the United States when they were young adults, Sylvia is one of four children. Upon deciding to become a nurse, she took her training at the Albert Einstein Medical Centre in Pennsylvania and served as Head Nurse at the Bethel Hospital in Brooklyn, New York shortly after that.
As the story goes, the head nurse who trained her, unbeknownst to Sylvia at the time, had a master plan – and that plan was to introduce her charismatic and socially conscious son to Sylvia with the hopes they would marry. And marry they did.  
Sylvia wed Gus Wedderburn in 1958 and moved to Nova Scotia where they raised two children – John and Diane. The years that followed saw Sylvia work tirelessly as a nurse beginning at the Halifax Infirmary, then on to the Dartmouth General, the Victoria General and eventually the IWK where she was the administrative coordinator of Nursing.
Her career spanned almost 40 years, and during that time, she also proved to be an active member of her community. Known for her beautiful voice, she has been a choral singer for decades including her time as a cast member of CBC’s Singalong Jubilee. She still lends her dulcet tones to the Chebucto Singers where she has been a member for more than 20 years.
Sylvia has served on many Boards and Committees, many of which have focused on the health and wellness of our children and young women in need. Such posts have included Post Natal lecturing at the YMCA, Board Member on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board - Victim’s Services Division and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Brunswick-Cornwallis. 
She is a mentor and sister to many and is always willing to extend a hand and a voice, to those in need.No stranger to adversity, Sylvia continues to maintain a passionate, thoughtful and graceful approach to dealing with life’s challenges.
She is a treasured member of her community and is relied on for her guidance and sage counsel. She is a leader across the many groups with whom she is in contact - whether it be the street where she lives, her church, her friends and sisters, her fellow choristers, her peers, or her family.

Her two granddaughters, Sophia and Eve, tell “Nanny Syl” that they feel blessed to have her in their lives. Blessed indeed.

Sylvia will always be our Champion of Champions. She continues to inspire us with her passion, zest for life and strength. (Compiled by Cherly James, UK and Ann Divine, NS).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 70 years on

 Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, (United States) holding a Declaration of Human Rights © UN Photo

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, (United States) holding a Declaration of Human Rights
© UN Photo

December is recognized as Human Rights month by the United Nations General Assembly. Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR).

Human Rights Day on December 11th, 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The milestone document proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being -- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages. 

What are Human Rights?

Video - what are human rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all.

  • Human rights are relevant to all of us, every day.
  • Our shared humanity is rooted in these universal values.
  • Equality, justice, and freedom prevent violence and sustain peace.
  • Whenever and wherever humanity's values are abandoned, we all are at greater risk.
  • We need to stand up for our rights and those of others. (UNDHR). "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

In this document, I wish to acknowledge that the province of Nova Scotia, Canada will celebrate 50 years of Human Rights, on December 10, 2017, International Human Rights Day.

The Historical Context of Human Rights

"During the course of the past five decades, people throughout the world have taken up the mantle of human equality in ways that have no historical precedent. In the United States, we have seen the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the expression of acceptance of and equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) people. The public discourse has changed so dramatically during the past fifty years that in a great many social and professional circles, it is now completely unacceptable to voice openly bigoted statements. In South Africa, apartheid the horrific system designed to subjugate black South Africans to permit the white minority to maintain power) has been gone for more than twenty years. In Europe, we have seen the removal of the Berlin Wall, countries have moved towards elevating gender equality to formal public policy status. Many governments of these nations are studying the many facets of multiculturalism as waves of immigrants radically change the demographics of historically homogeneous countries." (Ross, Howard. J 2014)

The changes in human rights have also made significant strides in Canada. We have witnessed various apologies to people and nations who have been wronged. While the international law requires compensation but not apologies for serious human rights violations, an apology yields tremendous significance for victims nonetheless. They represent a formal attempt by the government to acknowledge the serious harm inflicted on an individual, their family, or an entire community. They send a strong message that the government acted unlawfully (Human Rights Watch July 2017).

Birth of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission 1967 - 2017

 Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives

Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives

The Nova Scotia, Human Rights Commission, was founded in 1967 because citizens of Nova Scotia were concerned about the plight of African Nova Scotian, and members of the Visible Minority communities who were facing discrimination and repression. It also reflected on renewed efforts to address the treatment of indigenous peoples of Nova Scotian. Discrimination impacted every aspect of their lives. Poor housing, lack of education, unemployment, and poor health were endemic in these communities.

The newly founded Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission identified the three pillars of human rights were "fair and equal access to employment, education, and housing." Give all of our citizens a decent education, give all who can work a job at a living wage where they can earn their way with dignity and self-respect and make more safe and affordable housing available for all." (225). 

This was the request from community leaders and trailblazers in the field of human rights here in Nova Scotia. Under the leadership of successive directors of the NSHRC tremendous efforts were made to develop initiatives and programs to raise awareness about the local issues across the province. Nova Scotians have worked tirelessly to bring about change, engage in education and information on human rights so that people are treated with dignity and respect.

Through the complaint mechanism members of the public can bring their complaints to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for a fair hearing.

More information about the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission can be found about the 50th Anniversary of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on the following web page -

Make One's Peace with the Rocks

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Expressing thanks to "My Halifax Experience" and founder Ifeanyi Emeshi for creating a platform for immigrants in the Maritimes (New Foundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), to showcase their stories. How we have built our lives, faced barriers, challenges and overcame to become good citizens who are giving back to our communities. 

I was honoured to be nominated and received an award as one of the Top 25 Immigrants in the Maritimes. The evening was particularly special because among the other award recipients was my husband David Divine and our son David P B Divine, the official photographer for the night.

I must confess I shed a tear, and my friend Barbara Miller Nix (one of the first people to befriend me in Canada), sitting beside me said, "look how far you've come. If I had told you, then it would get better you would have never believed me."  And that is the truth.

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Reflecting back on the early years of struggles, pain, fear, being separated from family and friends and being a strange environment took its toll. 

My story is not unique but listening to others, we all share that common bond of the emotional and physical feelings of loss when we first arrived as new immigrants. It takes about ten years to settle finally. 

The Maritimes is not a leisurely picnic nor Canada's playground. It takes courage, perseverance, risking everything, being patient, hard work and finally making one's peace with the rocks. At least that's what I did.

I am thankful for all the incredible things I have accomplished. 
Taking one step at a time to climb the mountain of challenges we face. I stretched myself beyond my comfort zone. And with the help and support from people in my community, even those beyond believed in me, and cheered me on when the chips were down. We also shared great memories of fun, joy, and laughter. We created family and friends around us.

An event such as this is inspiring for all of us, and I was so excited to see the diversity of brilliant young minds joining from all over the world to attend our universities. We can only grow from here!

Congratulations to my fellow Award Winners. We are but a few named individuals who have contributed to enriching our region and clearing a path for others to follow.

Thanks to the organizers, the sponsors and other supporters for their commitment to seeing our Maritimes grow and prosper.



























Sexual Harassment in the Workplace - "You were Flattered"

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Women have been suffering in silence, internalizing their pain and feeling the shame of being sexually harassed for what seems like an eternity.  

Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace or who seek or provide a particular service are accused of "asking for it" or they ought to feel "flattered by the attention." 
No matter how women are dressed, how educated they are, or the position they hold.  Sexual harassment is a shared experience.

When women are courageous enough to challenge such unwanted behaviour by men, they are often made to feel degraded. This behaviour by men is across the social and cultural divide, regardless of race and ethnicity or profession. 
Victims are expected to prove that they are impeccable and without blame even when they seek justice as in the recent case in Montreal ((Judge Braun, A similar situation occurred in Nova Scotia.  

It is unfortunate that although laws have been in place for decades to protect women, the system is designed to protect the perpetrators because our workplaces are male-dominated and it is biased towards men.

I am glad the topic is being headlined in the recent weeks because it has generated conversation, people are now being held to account for their actions. Some will face or feel the consequence of their actions where it hurts the most. Money speaks volumes, and the business must go on.

It is encouraging to know that women now speak with a collective voice and feel empowered enough to name and shame.
However, the majority of women who have been victimized and abused by men in the workplace will be afraid to come forward or speak up for fear of losing their jobs.  The most vulnerable often feel they have nowhere to go.

Anyone who is a victim of abuse in the workplace, particularly in Canada can approach the Human Rights Commission in their province or territory with confidence for help and support in lodging a complaint.  Other countries may have a similar complaint process.

If you or your organization is interested in a Workshop on "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace." We have a solution for you.