Nova Scotia·Q&A

Communities weigh in as Halifax develops anti-Black racism action plan

Russel Brooks was hired by the Halifax Regional Municipality in April 2021 to help develop an action plan to combat anti-Black racism within the local government and region.

Co-ordinator Russel Brooks says municipality must confront racism to address it

Halifax Regional Municipality is engaging with people who live in historic Black communities as staff develop an anti-racism strategy. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The anti-Black racism program co-ordinator for the Halifax Regional Municipality says in order to eliminate racism in all its forms, you have to confront it.

It's why Russel Brooks, who was hired in April 2021, has been organizing workshops and inviting guest speakers to educate municipal workers about racial issues in Nova Scotia and the harms that have been done. 

He's also meeting with people of African descent to hear about the discrimination they've faced, and how the municipality can do better. 

It's part of Brooks's job to develop a municipal anti-Black racism strategy and action plan that will guide how the local government operates and works with Black communities in the future. It's expected to be completed by 2025

He spoke with CBC Radio's Information Morning on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the work he's doing to create more inclusive and safer communities. His conversation with guest host Preston Mulligan has been edited for clarity and length. 

Listen to his full interview here:

What are some of the more common themes or responses that you got when you did the community engagement?

In a lot of the historical Black communities across HRM ... there's a lot of things that a lot of people probably don't realize about a lot of those communities, and simple things like having, you know, sidewalks and crosswalks and signage that identify them as historical Black communities. Those communities have been around for so long and there's so much history there, so to not be acknowledged in that way is something that is so meaningful to those communities … Just things that, you know, might sound simple but are so significant to those communities because like I said, there's a lot of rich and proud history in those communities so they want to be able to display that and a simple sign can do something like that. 

There's other things like having bus services to those communities — in and out of those communities. So it's hard for people to find work out of those communities if they don't have access to transportation and things like that.

What are some of the other short-term goals that you want to achieve? 

The biggest thing is obviously acknowledging that this is an issue and it's something that, you know, needs to be addressed. And one of …. the main ways that we can do that is to have a better understanding of it. So we've made a big commitment to education and continued learning. We're putting on different workshops, we're inviting people from community, we're inviting subject experts that deal with these type of racial issues. They're coming in and they're educating the employees so that… they can utilize those skills and the things that they're taking from those workshops right there in their business units and among their teams. We're hoping that over time, it's going to shift the culture across the organization and, you know, we'll see less of these issues. 

Russel Brooks is the anti-Black racism program coordinator with the Halifax Regional Municipality's African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office. (Submitted by Russel Brooks)

What can we learn from the past in order to make change to eliminate racial discrimination in Nova Scotia? 

Well, I mean, we can't hide from it. That's one of the biggest things that I would say is, you know, we can't hide from the past and we have to acknowledge and understand that there have been some historical wrongs in this province, in this country. I order to move forward, we have to ... acknowledge that and then just work on not repeating the past. We can't change what's happened, but we can change the way that we've done things so that we're not getting, you know, the repeat outcomes that have been so unfavourable for racialized people for so long.

I think one of the biggest things that we're focusing on is making sure that we're doing things with community. We're doing things with the people that are directly impacted by the work that we're doing. We're making sure that those folks have a voice and a say in the work that's being done so if we're doing something that involves the African Nova Scotian community, then we're engaging them in the work so that they know why we're doing the work, how it's going to impact them, and we need to hear from them. Because we're not in that community, we're not going to be directly impacted, we might miss those pieces. So we bring them to the table so they can inform us on how it's going to impact them, how it should be done to be the least disruptive or to be least harmful.

I understand you're working with some local activists to create more educational opportunities. Tell me about that. 

With this year's theme for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it's voices against racism. For me, this really resonates with me because there are so many influential people here in Halifax that inspire me to do the work that I'm doing — people like DeRico Symonds, Kate Macdonald, Trayvone Clayton, Megan Neaves, Natteal Battiste, Quentrel Provo, Ayo Aladejebi, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, just to name a few of the powerhouses that we have here that are doing some amazing things for the people in the communities all across HRM.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning