By Henderson Paris
African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia is meant for people of all cultures and walks of life to learn about the amazing contributions and achievements made by people of African descent.
This is what Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an American historian, author, journalist and educator, envisioned when he founded what was then called Negro History Week in 1926. Fifty years later in 1976 it would be renamed to Black History Month in the United States of America.
Much indeed has transpired throughout Nova Scotia, Canada, the U.S. and globally in the area of acceptance and race relations. Sadly enough, it wasn’t very positive in regards to the treatment and overall wellbeing for people of colour.
As we reflect primarily on two particular racial incidents that occurred in the 1940s at the Roseland Theatre here in New Glasgow involving two incredible women and one of their sons it signified that much work needed to be done in the area of race relations.
Dr. Carrie Best & son Calbert in 1941 and Viola Desmond in 1946. These remarkable individuals knew very well that a lot of work dealing with racial discrimination and unjust prejudice had to be front and centre. Turning a blind eye could no longer be tolerated. We are incredibly proud of those sacrifices, challenges, contributions and achievements made by so many trailblazing pioneers such as these individuals. Them, and many others like them, worked tirelessly and fiercely for the advancement and prosperity of our communities, province and country.
For black people, much sadness, oppression, segregation and discrimination was a way of life four decades ago and longer. These and many other forms of discriminatory and unjust acts were unrighteously inflicted on people of colour. Thankfully, over many long and tormented years, we began to see signs of hope, unity and yes even togetherness.
Thirty years ago this year I had a vision that something needed to be done to create more awareness about the problems of racial discrimination that was still very much prevalent within our communities and county. I founded the Run Against Racism! Along with many others by my side over the years we ran to make a difference. People were listening, participating and communicating of wanting to bring about much-needed change. Incidentally, one year when Dr. Best was in her 80s she got out of her car on Provost Street near the town hall and ran with me. That was determination and a message to everyone that she validated what I was doing and combined with the support I already had was sending a very clear message for all to see. In my mind she was endorsing what I had started and was overwhelmed that the work she had done was continuing on with this event.
For 20 years we continued to run and saw differences and changes happening everywhere. We decided to bring it to an end.
However, when one chapter closes another one opens and that was the case when friends of ours wanted to continue with what we had started. The Marathon of Respect and Equality (M.O.R.E.) was born, and each year I have been a co-chair and participant. This year will mark its 10th anniversary. Thirty continuous years of spreading the same message, albeit in a different format.
Students from across our county, with the blessings and support of school administration, have played a significant role in both of these amazing events. They are the ones, not to overlook the role numerous amounts of adults have played in this process as well. Students have helped make incredible strides in regards to fostering lasting relationships, togetherness along with peace, harmony and equality. These young learners knew that our paths must change. They have unequivocally been the change we dreamed of! Our communities are so much better because of it.
I truly believe our communities have indeed grasped the baton of diversity and inclusion and are determined and committed to make continued progressive strides. Also, I get the feeling that they realize we all need to live, work, play, socialize, and yes, even pray together so our communities will be more richer because of it.
Also, we are excited with what the new owner of the former Roseland Theatre, developer Jamie MacGillivray, has in store redeveloping and refurbishing the vacant dismal-looking building into a modern showcase which will be adorned with beautiful artwork which will feature Viola Desmond. This to me demonstrates that we have come a very long way with such thoughtful and visionary expressions that represents our past and the path forward together.
Unfortunately, there will probably always be more work that can and needs to be done. We are not totally there yet and I probably won't see it in my lifetime either. Challenges regarding race will undoubtedly pop up its ugly head. However, we as a combined and resilient society of all cultures and nationalities must face it head on. We need to confront this when it happens with the same strength, hopes, dreams, determination and perseverance that those who came before us had.
We can always do better. We have to do better for those who are coming after us and deserve a brighter future. Let’s leave a legacy for all to follow and look up to with great expectations.
After all, our history is your history.
Henderson Paris is the founder of Run Against Racism and a former town councillor for New Glasgow.