Nova Scotia

African Heritage Month could be the foundation for something bigger

People in Nova Scotia need to do more to recognize the important role people of African descent play in this province, said Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard.

'My hope is ... we pay attention to people of African descent as central to life in this province'

Nova Scotia senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said young African Nova Scotians need a connection to their culture. One way they can get that is from learning history from their elders. (women.gov.ns.ca)

Nova Scotians need to do more to recognize the important role people of African descent play in this province, says Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard. 

"African History Month is important," she said, "But my hope is that ... all year long, we pay attention to people of African descent as central to life in this province, and not as an appendix. We're often an appendix." 

Thomas Bernard is a professor at Dalhousie University's school of social work and was appointed to the Canadian Senate in November 2016. She's researched the history and violence of racism. 

She said African Heritage Month is a good first step, but more needs to be done to make sure people have a connection to their culture. 

'We often overlook those small actions that can really lead to big changes'

An important part of preparing young African Nova Scotians is teaching them the history of their elders, explaining the adversity they faced, and learning from their best practices for overcoming racism, said Thomas Bernard. 

"What immediately comes to mind is the activism of Viola Desmond. When she took her stand, I'm sure she had no idea the impact that would have on the whole country. We often overlook those small actions that can really lead to big changes."

Paul Adams Sr. and Paul Adams Jr. work side by side together at Adams Photography. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Paul Adams Sr. has taken those ideas to heart. He owns a photography studio in Cole Harbour. 

"You want to be a mentor to these children, as a black business owner. There's not a whole lot of black business owners, so to be a positive role model for the children ... I pride myself on that — eventually that will be African history."

Adams Sr. and his wife have tried to pass that interest in African culture and history onto their grown son Paul Adams Jr., who now works as a designer and photo finisher at his father's studio. 

Over the past three years, Paul Jr.'s designed the official posters for Nova Scotia's African Heritage Month.

Parents help pass on history

Adams Jr. said he had African history classes in high school but in the lower grades the only time African history was talked about was during African Heritage Month.

The last three posters for African Heritage Month have been designed by Paul Adams Jr. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"I learned a lot of African history from my mom, we'd read books, making sure that I knew that stuff and dad as well. I know mom definitely, definitely knew my history and heritage," said Adams Jr. 

February is African Heritage Month, but events celebrating African heritage started this week. The theme for this year's African Heritage Month is "Passing the Torch: Nova Scotians and the Next 150 Years."

Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Tony Ince, said the theme is meant to recognize the struggles and successes of past generations of African Nova Scotians, and to prepare future generations for economic and social prosperity. 

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