Part 1 - Women Inspiring Women

Viola Desmond stamp (© Canada Post, 2012) 

Viola Desmond stamp (© Canada Post, 2012) 

Last Thursday evening, February 11, 2016, was the first time Black Canadian Women in Nova Scotia were gathered in the historic building at Pier 21. This historical building was the gateway to Canada’s immigrant population from Europe after the World War II.

For a long time, it felt that we as Black Canadian Women did not belong there. With little evidence of black people’s journey through Pier 21 to Canada. The journey of Black Nova Scotians is archived the Black Cultural Centre. Black people’s journey was chronicled differently. They came through the Underground Railroad, Slave Trade, and latterly via planes. So being in such as auspicious space brought hundreds of our women of all ages and races together. Thanks to Historic Canada, our history, the history of Black women was brought to the stage and shone brightly that evening. It was so magnificent.

The evening truly belonged to Wanda Robson, the youngest sister of Viola Desmond a successful Black businesswoman who nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. She was dragged out of the theatre and put in jail. Last year February 15th we celebrated Viola Desmond Day.

At the grand age of 73, Wanda (almost 90-year-old today) went to the University of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She regaled us with stories of her classmates and reminded us that age was no barrier in her class. In fact, she would say, it not only enhanced her status but she won their affections.

A group of African Nova Scotian women was invited to share their stories. These women are among the leaders and pioneers in the history of Black Nova Scotians. Many of them (along with Tony Ince, Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage’s Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs), spoke eloquently and reflected on the lives of those individuals who influenced them  personally and professionally. At last, we can now share our history to our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and beyond the circles of our families and friends. We now have the opportunity to go into schools, colleges and universities and share our history written and oral.

As I sat listening to the roll call of women doing extraordinary things, women of all ages, overcoming incredible odds, I felt a great sense of pride because of our spirit of resilience, determination and what they represented for the young women coming up.

The importance of documenting our history gives a sense of belonging, something that cannot be taken for granted. An important feature I have come to learn about the uniqueness about Black Nova Scotians is their ability to champion their history. Their leaders are among the most fastidious in keeping written and oral historical records about the Black diaspora. Their history of generation after generation dating back to the Eighteenth Century of Blacks in Canada is second to none. However, this not the same for all of us Black people. Some records have been fragmented, destroyed, or lost because of passages of time and colonialism. The people from the Caribbean and South America might not be able to document their history in such details. I am proud that my granddaughter because she is born to an African Nova Scotian father, she would be able to document her history in a way that I cannot trace my own.

As I too begun to reflect on those who have influenced me, I could not help but noticed the group of women sitting around me either by default, providence or because of my sisterhood with one of these ladies.

This group of Black Canadian Women who were not included in or has ever been recognized for their contribution as forerunners to in Black Nova Scotian history and diversity.

My grandmother used to say, “Ann there are sides to the story” all our stories matters, no matter how difficult, we must tell with care, empathy, love, and understanding, if not, the mosaic of Canada is incomplete.

We are all immigrants with diverse experiences but are significant in our contributions to the fabric of this great country. We are also indebted to our Indigenous sister for their generosity and a quite source of inspiration for all of us. Women like Sister Theresa Moore and Cheryl Maloney who share their wisdom with us.

Stay tuned for part 2, The Leading Ladies of Canada