Nov. 11, 2000
People First Consultants
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia B2H 5E7
Pager Ė 902-558-1040
So, you went to Acadia University. My Dad went there, and my brother, too.
Yup, I played basketball there. We didnít win much, butÖ I remember one game; it was their first game of the year so they werenít that ready and they didnít expect us to be able to play. They were much bigger. I mean, their tallest guy was like 6í 11", our tallest guy was Victor Soares, and he was probably around 6í9"Ö
Cape Verdean, right? Iíve been an organizer in Rhode Island and I learned that you do not call Cape Verdeans African American, he knows who he is, you have to sort that out.
Yah, but isnít it funny itís like my mother, she knew who she was, sheís African Canadian, but being African was not an asset. I wanted it more, though. I use it more to let people know about assimilation. It goes beyond assimilation, that is the end result of slavery when people canít their identity I mean, say there was an eagle down in the hen yard doing the same as the hens because the eagle fell out of the nest and the hens adopted the eagle and brought him up. And the eagle flew overhead and saw the fellow eagle down there, he came down and asked him questions and the eagle on the ground was able to say that he was a hen, because he had been raised by the hens. He said I knew both of your parents, they were both eagles! And he said, come up here and fly with me and the eagle on the ground said I canít. Thatís racial assimilationÖ
Yah, and you ask the Irish immigrant why they hate and mistrust the lace curtain Irish, who hate and mistrust the mine workers and the ditch diggers and the tunnel workers. Itís the same deal and at some point they figured out in Boston that if they took over politics they could have all the police jobs. Itís about power. Political power led to a job and they figured out a way to make it work.
The Irish in the shantytowns and all of that, Iíve studied the Irish. One of my friends has always asked, when I met people they may be telling me about their struggle and trying to make comparisons. The thing I say to them is well if youíre asking about the hierarchy of oppression, you tell me about your issues, and I turn around and say have you ever lived in a project? I say, and you try it, Iíll see you in a couple of years, because youíll be on social assistance like the rest of us and you wonít have 50,000 dollars worth of lobster traps or a license. Maybe you wonít own a house right, to lose, and youíll realize if you try to survive on $125 worth of food because you canít go to the sea and get fish even though you have no money, or to the farm and get things. And you get caught up in that argument and all of a sudden you step back and you say wait a minute, what am I doing? Iím arguing that the miners donít have it as bad as the people who havenít got a job in the mines.
But wait a minute, the mine owners screwed everybody!
So, part of this project that Iím doing is collecting stories of activists and organizers for the purpose of advancing organizing.
What do you got? Who puts the label on activists? The key is people that are actively involved in creating justice, which would mean every individual, because a community is a collective. Itís always seeking advancement. If the family is not strong, then the community is not strong. And by making the each individual family strong, you know, you make a
Thatís right. Not just trying to advance some kind of collective, itís a myth that has been created. There are like-minded people, and the fact is that everybody uses water and sewage, that is a fact, that is the only fact. And thatís what like-minded means. In turn people will find reasons to say whoís in and whoís out. Iím not particularly into that. The fact that we would be all Irish, we would be all female, we would be all anything really only groups us out of a conditionÖ
One of the few true facts about the world is that stuff runs down hill, yet who gets it to go down hill, and who gets it to run over their back yard is a political act too. Thatís where Iím interested. Thatís my work, is the people that are on the lower end of the gravity where that comes in. Thatís whatís exciting to me, to see people in that situation stand up and fight. What Iím interested in, and the other folks that are interested in this project is what are people doing thatís hopeful, and what are some ways that we can support people that are doing organizing and trying to make positive changes? So the short version of the questions and if we had an hour and a half Iíd love it, but we donít, short version of the questions are what do you do, why do you do it and what sustains you?
Yah, basically you do what you need to for survival. I inherited being an activist in Nova Scotia, thatís just part of my inheritance. I inherited the parents that I have, that was part of my inheritance and as a result they both then constructed that I be a part of the experience of making livable a part of where I lived. Where I lived itís a community. The conditions were what the world had created. Iím trying to give you a sense of how you narrow it down, that it doesnít happen for you as an individual, you were born into it,
Where in Nova Scotia were you born?
Actually I was born in Montreal and I stayed there until I was 5 years
old and I was adopted and brought to Nova Scotia. I grew up with all of
my education in Nova Scotia. So that again comes to another path,
from where you were born to where you end up and throughout your life,
you know. I went to Africa three years ago. I never thought would I ever
find myself there and now I was right at the heart of that, in a real demonstration
against another group, I was right at the heart of Soweto. I saw where
one of the students was killed; I saw Mandelaís house with the barbed wire
fence. I saw Sun City, which happened early in the Ď90ís. I saw a box city
you know, and I was in Botswana and represented the country there at a
conference, the commonwealth ministries in education and technology. For
me coming from Maroon Hill, it was all I wanted to have gone to Africa.
What was really interesting was the outfit I had purchased. It was the
main outfit for my wedding and I got married in it. I had bought it and
had it made in Ghana and shipped here. When I got to the ministers of education
conference there were several members of the Ghanaian delegation, including
the minister of Ghana. One night we were at a function at my house, I must
have paid about 2000 dollars for it, it was beautiful. They rushed over
to me; the Ghanaians rushed over to me. The protocol is, you donít as a
delegate speak to the minister, but the minister came over to me and introduced
himself. I had met them as a delegate because Iím head of the African community
services division here in terms of exchange teachers and students. They
brought him over and he said, Mr. Upshaw I am ashamed to be Ghanaian because
you look more Ghanaian
than I do tonight! He said, what a brilliant suit! I said well, you need not be ashamed because I support the economy. I purchased and bought this from Akra. That was an interesting experience for me in my personal and my professional life. You talk about things that motivate you and keep you going, having the opportunity to go to Africa for me was something I always wanted to do. But the other part of the experience Dave, was, I was on a conference call with about ten of the delegations from Canada who was going. We had never met and as you know we donít have one education minister for the country, but the minister from Prince Edward Island was leading the delegation. I got to go because somebody from Nova Scotia was supposed to go and they selected me from the department. As a result of that we had talked, conference calls on the phone, so nobody knows anybody. When I arrived in Botswana, at Gaborone and got off the plane, I was met by one of the Botswanian educators. They told me some of the members of the Canadian delegation were already through the airport. There were two or three, including the minister PEI, who were there. When I came into the lobby area, the delegate went from me over to them and said Mr.Upshaw has arrived from Nova Scotia. They turned around and looked and said where? You were still invisible even in Africa. I was standing right there. In fact, they attempted to apologize. However that was a credit I had, you owe me one; I wasnít accepting no apologizing. Iíll get something from you for that,
Someday Iíll collect.
Well, I enjoyed the trip. There were opportunities that I wanted to advance. I was there to help the delegation recruit money for one of the Canadian institutes we had there and I was supposed to deal with delegates and lobby them, that was my task on behalf of the African Canadian Nova Scotian Services Department. So I had a breakfast one morning, little old me from Maroon Hill with a minister, four or five of them from African countries including the new education minister of South Africa, the minister of Jamaica and a few others and that was very empowering situation to be a part in. It was worth it. Now, one of the other parts of the suit experience was this day. This is all interesting because we did the kinds of things, when you talk about what motivates you what motivates me is being a part of a team. It was the team that I had been able to be a part of, and the change that we had been able to exact as a result of that. The change really isnít about anybody else, itís always about you and thatís from a selfish perspective. But at the end of any change, itís just my own observation that anything that Iíve done and as much effort Iíve put into it is really for my own well being. It doesnít start there, it does come from a sense of doing things for others but when itís all said and done the only thing you can measure is how did that feel. Okay? Because you have no sense of the impact, that just comes back to you from individuals or whatever and really that impact is really like a pleasant surprise, itís not what sustains you
What sustains you is a sense of satisfaction.
Well for me, what sustains me is the reality that I can work at it and if I work at it with other people we can actually help one another, youíll keep me strong to be able to work some more.
So youíre field of action is education?
I was in education for community development, under cover, as a counter agent, you know. I have been in advocacy, bureaucracy, and as for the RCMPís secret spies, on some other groups, too. I have worked basically on behalf of human beings and Iíll phrase it as philosophically as that. And I am one of those human beings and I donít care if it specifically has been any African Nova Scotian community. We canít alienate, if anybody works for anybody else they work on behalf of human beings. I work as the other human beings who are working on behalf of human beings and the issues that impact on them. I have worked for human beings then and I have done it in the places that Iíve found myself and the places that Iíve been taken, and I will continue to do it until I die.
Just to communicate to some of the folks who read the text of this. What are some of the examples of the practice that you are in now? What is some of the work that youíre doing now?
Right now Iíve been involved for the last two years as a private consultant called Peopleís First Consultants and working on a number of fronts in economic development. Itís funny that economic development is there because from my perspective there is a lot of misunderstanding. We had in Nova Scotia, we didnít have then any access to the fishery, the lumber or the farm, you know. So even now in the GATT, weíre not represented there. And so really as far as economic development we have very few Black ministers, we certainly have little or no millionaires, we donítí own any of the Lovelawís or the Irvings or any of the Tim Hortons or these kinds of things. We have been basically here, shut out from the ownership. Now three or maybe four percent of some African Nova Scotians have some wealth, but I wouldnít need two hands to count them, some have been able to aspire but none of them are a Rockefeller. Those guys are like in another world, I mean, at minimum we may have 1 or 2 entrepreneurs who may have made a million, if that,
Well, and a million isnít what it used to be, either.
No! And itís really not even a million cause Iím telling you, I have been here and spent some 46 years on the planet, most of them here. I travel one end of this province to the other, constantly working on community development, working in the larger communities, universities, agencies, community economic development agencies. I cannot find any large number of people who could stand up. For example if I said, who is the largest Black employer in the province, I would have to stop and look at that and say, is there any Black person in the private sector who employs more than 10 people?
Right? I would have to stop and ask that question, that would be a joke!
Maybe one or two, I donítí know, yah, theyíve got these offices and that
so maybe the government, maybe one even the African Nova Scotian Community
Services division with its staff and the programs it supports would be
the largest Black employer. Then really theyíre government; not all of
the funds are coming from them. In the private sector, you know, we just
donít have no Lovelaws, we donít have no Irvings, because we have been
shut out totally from any kind of economic development. If we are now struggling
in the community with a number of social issues that we canít even get
to the business end of
things, you must break into the market, youíve got to be able to compete. Itís like coming at the end of the monopoly board, where theyíve been playing for the last 200 years,
And theyíve all got hotels
Hotels, motels, and holiday inns. And you have just been here, but youíve
been on the two cheapest parts on the board, Baltic and Mediterranean,
and you were told that you can play and help others play but you canít
accumulate anything. Then at the end of that youíve been set free along
with other disenfranchised groups, the Irish, the Scots, the Germans, and
youíve been all let go without the original starting money. And youíve
looked and youíve seen all these spots, people have got jobs on the railway,
the power company, the waterworks and theyíve got homes and various neighborhoods,
Marvin Gardens, Board Walk. You now are expected to come and play as an equal, but itís totally unequal. Everybody gets a role of the dice, and when you land on Community Chest, well it must be youíre asking for a hand out. I canít pay you today, or Iíll trade some lesser service for you, you might even sell drugs, or a prostitute while youíre there, youíre desperate. A lot of people just went directly to jail, they didnít ask out.
How many African Nova Scotians?
The population has been put at anywhere between 22,000 and 25,000. People give me figures of 30,000,
What would be the total population of Nova Scotia?
We make up probably about 2 % of the total population. Itís close to a million and we probably make up about 2% of the population,
Very geographically concentrated as I understand it.
Geographically concentrated yes, for as long as weíve been here, most of the population has been in the exact same spot as when they landed here from 1750 on, the larger groups.
And many of them as you were saying this morning got land grants or were resettled as a result of being on the losing side,
On the losing side yes, yes.
Of the American Revolution?
Of the American Revolution. Yah, and the War of 1812. We had the American Revolution, which sent people here. We had the migration of the Trelawny Maroons from Jamaica, who were a small number of people who came here and ended up most of them going back. We had 3 migrations out as well of Nova Scotia. We had the loyalists came here from the United States. Some left and went back to Sierra Leone. Thatís what the first migration is, most of them left, they left the loyalist communities here, but some got left behind, because they didnít even know they were leaving.
They didnít get the call.
They didnít get the call. Then the Maroons came in after that. The Maroons lived for a bit around the Halifax area and then they too were shipped out to Sierra Leone. The irony about the Maroons and the Black Loyalists that came here first, is that the Maroons were then used by the British to police the Loyalists over in Sierra Leone as a police force against the Blacks who went there,
Yes, who decided that they were going to get more freedom there then they would here. Then the final group that came here and really settled Nova Scotia were the refugees who came here from the war of 1812. They then became the bulk. Now that and then some of those other people stayed, there are loyalist families you can find here and those who came farther back in the 1700ís but the majority are from the War of 1812. After that those towns were settled basically on the outskirts of larger towns where they then became a key source of labor.
Well, to cut to the chase in one sentence, weíre talking about activists and organizers and generations of activists and organizers. What do you see in terms of where folks are coming from into the field of community development and community organization?
Well, whatís really interesting, Dave, is that over the last 12 years
around the whole area of anti-racism and diversity, I listen to people
introduce themselves even today telling me they do these things. If anybody
asks me where my involvement is in anti-racism I would tell them I have
a Ph.D. which involved 46 years of living it, thatís my PHD in anti-racism
education. Now the other thing as far as community development goes, weíve
got a whole bunch of missionaries on our hands, only this time theyíve
got the Bible of CED. Theyíve got good hearts and they want to help and
they come back to that community to tell us, hereís what youíve got to
do to organize. Basically thatís an insult. It suggests that we havenít
survived this all. Where were you on the great boat ride over; where were
you when we were brought to this rocky land grant and put this house up
and built these communities; where were you when we were founding churches
all over Nova Scotia; where were you when we were fighting in the Black
Battalion? We have always been organizing, donít be labeling us with no
kinds of community capacity building because you will find if you spend
a day with us, we have more capacity to build than you even know. And if
we ever get the opportunity, you know, we will build just as great because
we always have. We built the kinds of things that are back on the continent,
long before there were any of the missionaries. Now I point to the missionaries
simply as a person or group of people who are of no specific race. They
have now come back to the community with contracts and terms and ignorance
to suggest that I am a person in that community who doesnít have information.
They build a structure for that person to get the information. But you
donít turn around and label them and then say just you need this and that.
Thatís all that matters, if Iím hungry I need to eat, I donít need nobody
to structure for me the food groups and everything else, I need to find
food. Missionaries donít come to help, they come as a result of their looking
for work and the work is the community. So now, the community hasnít been
paid for that, in fact those people go away and write things and they make
money for it. You know, on the experience of the community because they
can write and the community doesnít have anybody to assist them in writing
or packaging it so that they can then make the money and they can come
back. Thereís a real economic exploitation in community economic development;
thatís the other side of it, looking out at it coming in. You can always
get help. If I donítí know much about digging a well and Iím thirsty and
I need clean water, then yes, I could go out and have experts come in and
drill me a well and do that. But the issue would be would I ever learn
to do that, would I ever leave my community and go to theirs and drill
a well for them? And why arenít they drilling wells in their own community?
Why are they all of a sudden anointed to come to our community in order
to articulate and do that and in reality even without assistance the community
would advance. If it doesnít it would
perish and it would be destined to perish and if it donít then it will revolt and it will
then take over and do exactly whatís being done to it.
You describe your work as community development, and that when you do
development work in your own community you work for like minded people,
I was actually speaking today on community development, but I donít
have that on my card. I just got a card recently, up to this day I havenít
had one, Iíve been involved in merely education and facilitation of workshops
and things like that. I find myself very much inclined to make what I consider
is social change, you know, societal change, so community development would
say yah, thatís what weíre out to do, too. Itís where it starts from that
is the issue. Where does it start from, when did you get this great idea
and notion to come to the community and offer your services, at what point?
I donít remember seeing you over at the baseball field, I donít remember
seeing you Sunday at
Sunday school, I donít remember you know, laughing with you. I donít remember you were called any names that I can recall resemble any of the names that I carry, so I have to look at it and say, donít come bearing gifts. Okay? Make yourself known, and if thereís any way I can help you, you know. What happens is the opposite happens, you get a sense of people coming to deliver their help. In that way you lose what they gain, they gain the opportunity to go through experiences and things like that, to do it for themselves. If I build a train for you or a plane for you thatíll take you from this point to that point then you lose the experience of two things, the journey, which is the most important thing, and you lose the experience of discovering ultimately how to build a train and a plane because other people did it. Itís an insult to assume that the community was unable to develop itself because the pace at which it goes may not be convenient for the observer. Or that you could go much faster if you could do this. Well, there are limits as to what you can do and how far you can go because your plane is around, the ability to get resources the ability to have trained skills. If you come to the community and you develop leadership then do that, then let the leadership have the experience to do that. Donít write the book for me about the struggle of African people; teach me how to write. Then Iíll write my own. Everybody has to have a good story to begin with. If you take mine then youíve done no good for me since Iíve shared your story. You know, itís like Rodney King. Itís like the Rodney King beating, where the guy rolled up to the hospital and Rodneyís there, heís all broke up and he says to Rodney are you okay, and Rodney says, I think Iím going to be okay, and the guy that took the video says to Rodney, donít you worry, Iíve got it all on film. Rodney asked him to come over a little closer to him, when he gets closer Rodney grabs him round the neck and he says, why in the hell didnít you stop them!
So talk a little about the why Ė why do you do this work?
Itís very simple. I do what I do anyway because it has to be done. I donít have to call myself a community developer; if that is anointed upon me so be it. If Iím part of the leadership so be it. I have to organize out of survival and that survival then also helps my family, my relatives, and my friends and my neighbors. I donít want to see any of them discriminated against, I donít want to see any of them without affordable housing, I donít want to see any of them having to deal with issues around the law, I donít want to see any of them ignorant and with any less of education and I donít want to see any of them without occupation and position and placement in the society. So if I get paid for that, good. For example I became an educator to teach, I found myself from moving from there into this term of community development and all of a sudden being paid for what I was doing anyway. No, it was the first time in my life that I felt fulfilled. The teaching was a job that I went to right out of the education that I had acquired. But to work in the community and make presentations and develop those things, that empowered me. When I really assess it, really it wasnít about doing for anybody else, thereís no premise that it can ever be done for anybody else, itís done for your own sanity, your salvation, and your own existence. And if as a spin off of that others are impacted upon then thatís even greater.
One of the things that seems to me sort of odd about Canada, strange and different to me, is the degree to which the community institution building process and the delivery of government services come together and overlap. We spoke about that issue of the structure of community organizations becoming part of the system, would you say something about that? How close can you get to government without losing the edge?
You have to see it as both, I think you need both. What happens is it has been presented as an either or. What has happened here is the community has gone to government, accused government of the failure of the delivery of services and programs. Itís only articulated the damage, it hasnít articulated the new system or those kind of things. So particularly in the damage, it has raised the consciousness of government at different points in time when different individuals were there. The government then has responded not with any kind of comprehensive approach as it would for cleaning up the Halifax Harbor or cleaning up the Sydney Tar Ponds, which they havenít done those either yet. But it responds specifically to where it then sees that coming from. And what happens then is it allocates a specific piece of money in order to minimally maintain a few handy persons to be able to somehow facilitate that. Those individuals neither have the professional skills that the entire government has at their disposal nor the resources to resolve the same. It isnít because thereís confusion over what has to be done and who needs to do it. One of the things is that they have to separate from the institution to believe that they can do it their way. And in order to do that they may create some parallel mechanisms to deliver what that system is. Where in fact you have to go in and get it that particular system and take those mechanisms there and then have mechanisms externally. So how we see it as both, you have to build things in the community but you have to build things inside the institution in order to hook those things up. And in Canada we have got that right with the African Community Services Division experience right? But our other initiatives are still very much parachuted from the outside, like the Black Enterprise Partnership Committees, the BEPCís. They are not hooked up right, because internally inside the federal government there is no mechanism to be able to offset those, to work with it. Yah, because really when we get to the Department of Education, even though you wear the hat of a bureaucrat if you can get in there and get the right person in there in the community with the right sensitivities then they can circumvent it. The bureaucrat is seen as a deliverer of services and things. But thatís all a mine field because thatís all tied to some already existing economic privilege and places and visions. They have been put forward in a major way and they bumped issues. Even though your issue was just long before them. For example, theyíll clean up the harbor. Now that harbor, even though itís been a few hundred and some years since the damage has impacted upon the harbor, theyíll clean that up before theyíll resolve the issues of African Nova Scotians. Theyíll ignore little kids who need an education. If I spend 400 million dollars cleaning up the Halifax harbor I will help the ecosystem in that reality and thereíll be dividends and benefits from there. But when in the whole existence of African Nova Scotians has that same kind of resources been put into the issues and needs of the 20,000 African Nova Scotians? The irony here is that the issues are so small, our population is so small, that they could fix the issues with a little bit of ingenuity and willingness. They could fix issues with not a whole lot of money. If I was in government and knowing what I know I would say to senior management, I could fix the issues of African Nova Scotians for less then the kind of money they bought for the new subs or the slab of concrete they paid for to tie up 2 ships. The tragedy when you look at it is there is a discrimination in the use of the resources toward issues impacting on African Nova Scotians. And I sum it up this way sometimes in the community and in this province: that it is a more central and more important to maintain pieces of highway then the lives of other African Nova Scotians because far more has been invested and put into the development of highways and the maintenance of highways comparatively to the resources spent on the issues of African Nova Scotians. And when you make them kind of parallel and you offer them to people, you get the empathy for a minute but then life goes on. You continue to struggle and they build more highway infrastructure,
Some are building highways on top of communities!
Far more important, even in the comparison, to the listener is that they missed the whole point. There is no debate here about either/or; itís about doing both. If youíre going to maintain highways and take lands because you appreciate the value of being able to transport goods and people safely on our roads, and to allow them opportunities and freedoms then take that same emphasis and application and thought to addressing the issues impacting on African Nova Scotians. Itís not a question of not doing that versus this, thatís not what it was for, dummy! You missed the whole point!
Whatís it going to take to advance work for social change?
What has it ever taken to do that? Why would here be any more unique
than anywhere? We didnít get the BLAC report because of the 200 years
of the struggle. We got it at the end of a snowball being thrown by a white
student at a Black student and then causing a fight the next day. There
was turmoil and national TV coverage and everything and now weíre working
at developing the BLAC report. That was like the tip of the iceberg that
allowed that to happen. How did you get change in Russia or in France or
in America, you know? Often the leader had to be a formal revolution. Now
Iím not advocating that thereís a physical revolution but there are revolutions
going on about the change of the
environment now; some physical but more an intellectual and also a natural, physical change. Like there are those kinds of revolutions. We are in one and we continue to be a part of a North American revolution in conjunction with other revolutions that are going on. And those revolutions about interests, concern, care, other things have allowed us to have impact beyond our own revolution. We neither have numbers to have any giant impact but, we do have thought processes and the organizations we have and are generating along with the church are generating a philosophy about that change. And even if the change comes by individuals which the group gets credit for, there will be a change.
Let me ask you about that BLAC report, what does BLAC stand for?
It is an advisory committee called BLAC, Black Learners Advisory Commission.
I donítí know the story, but Iím interested to hear, in a situation like this you have a snowball you have a fight, you have the news, thereís kids and thereís this turmoil. That may have happened before, but whatís different this time? Is there an infrastructure of leadership, are there other people positioned as advocates or are there folks in the community who are ready to take advantage of the opportunity?
There is a network of folks who are ready to who get the opportunity and are organized. I think Dave, that one of the key elements in any struggle is getting the right group of people together. The fact is as I said, we have people from Uganda, this didnít just happen. Obviously thereís some strength that put everybodyís destiny; that would bring a young man here to be the first male Black judge, but heís on this committee. Somehow he was attracted because heís a friend of the person who organizes it and the person who organized it, Mr.Delmore ĎBuddyí Day, who just happened to be the first Black Sergeant in the house at the time. He was the one chosen by a number of politicians in order to be able to bring this conglomerate of people together. He goes out and hand picks these individuals, myself included. My journey from Montreal to here puts me in the right place at the right time and having been to university and having a number of degrees and very much from the community, along with the other ten individuals. One worked in the human rights commission, 3 or 4 ministers who happened to be in local Nova Scotian communities and a couple who are just parents of children. We came together in the right place at the right time. The ministers are part of the African United Baptist Association.
Say a word about that if you would, AUBA.
The AUBA, well, that has existed since 1854 and it was our original institution that African Nova Scotians controlled and developed. It was unlike the aboriginals. When missionaries came to them, they stayed and ran their churches. In our case we were left to build them and develop them and run them ourselves.
So the BLAC report took advantage of the moment, it was a beneficiary of those generations of leadership development and powerful, powerful community.
No doubt that the legacy of the Cold Harbor inquiry created a group called the Black Educators Association, which formed itself in around 1965. Members from there were appointed to the BLAC report commission. They provided the skill and the knowledge of the system, while the other Blacks that were called upon by Mr. Day were people who had experience in government, or they were experienced in other things. Mr. Day wasnít so ingenious that he can sit home at night and he has consistently said this, it was out of the urgency that something finally needs to be done, he was in a position where he had the relationships with theseÖ
What was his position?
He had a position of the Sergeant of the House in the province, the first and only Black to hold that position in this province and that allowed him to hear the politicians, to ultimately get the original moneys so that the BLAC group could organize itself, maintain itself and develop a report with 46 recommendations.
What a terribly powerful position that is,
It was a key position for him, well, equally as key for the Black and white students who were involved in the altercation. Their destiny was shaped in the reality of the launching of the snowball and the reality that there would be retaliation on both sides, name calling. Because it really wasnít about racism at school because later more racism came from the involvement of the media and the police than the actual school systemís inability to even articulate appropriately that situation. Then you add people calling for an inquiry. Recently in the province we had just had the Donald Marshall inquiry. He was an aboriginal man who was wrongly incarcerated and then set free and it had cost 7 million dollars just to get lawyers and stuff and take this inquiry on the justice system. People viewed that and said there was 7 million dollars that went to waste. So they, Mr. Day felt that he could have the government appoint a team of people and they could get a million dollars, organize themselves and hire staff in order to address this issue, examine it, put some kind of demonstration project in place while they were getting ready. Put some teams in place and test them to see if youíre going to be able to put the fire out, then thatís the way that they go. Of course the government didnít want to face another inquiry because one segment of the Black community, the communities whose children were specifically hurt called for an inquiry into education. As soon as the government heard inquiry they saw 7 million more dollars and therefore we, those of us who were eventually brought together by Mr. Day, we said why spend 7 million dollars to investigate when we already know what weíre going to find. Letís work on the solutions. Because we knew no surprise when somebody tells me oh, thereís racism in Canadaís boat, thereís racism,
Oh no, what amazement!
You know, when you tell me these types of things, Ďbeen there done thatí, start working on trying to change it.
Cut right to the so what,
Exactly. But the biggest thing, Dave, is that we need to have people with experience and skills. Because at the end of articulation what happens to you? You need to be able to have the widest view possible and as much information as possible not to be duped again, or second victimized. Iíll give you a great analogy for that. We were kept as a group of people from being part of the organizing operation and implementation of Fort Knox, where they keep all the gold. If somebody told us how much money was available when they opened the doors to the room of gold, and we saw all of the things in there, being in our desperate situations, when those doors open, without skills and experience we might be led there by those who control it and say now as a result of the consequence of the snowball throwing, you can have anything you want in this room. Select something. Well, you could be left in the dilemma of the destitute of looking at the largest thing in the room and deciding my god, they actually opened the door, and theyíre actually going to allow us to take something. So then you think they must be mad and you donít understand that they can do stuff like this all the time, you go in and take the largest thing. Thinking that youíre one up, you go out and you have a good laugh and you go back to your people and say look what I got. Then thereís the elders standing there and they call you a fool, and say, you got nothing. And you say, well why is that, elder? And the elder says, did they tell you could have anything you wanted? Yes, and we got the biggest thing in there! He said, well why didnít you ask for a key the same as they got so you could go in there anytime and use it? And therein lie the skills and the experience. So many times the community can be circumvented based upon the desperateness of the issue.
And the simple attention seems like such a change that the attention seems like the victory.
Exactly. No victory is one until you can evaluate the outcome! Thatís is the key, but if you donít have any experience of understanding it is the outcomes that are the victory, not the assessment or even the implementation, that the game may be far harder after you get there. You might just ask for something and you get it and then find out you canít implement it.
You give me a 5 dollar job to do and a buck and half to do it, guess
When it comes to evaluation time,
Yah, exactly. So itís a game, and the key lies in the value of experience and Iím sure within the issue of education in other places thereís the same kinds of experiences. I look at South Africa and now see the changing of the guard and when I talk to the minister of education there I said you know what, we could save you 15 years of experience. Because we are at where youíre going to be at, we have already come from the kind of change in education that you are undergoing. I can tell you everything thatís going to happen to the largest community because weíve already lived it. We didnít circumvent and say that, but you know, if we did, we deny them some of the experience because how do we eventually get it? Iím not saying people have to go through misery you know, but there is something and I donít know what it is, I donít have the answer, all I know is that at the end of that people will tell you I Ďm stronger for what I went through. I am today, I am much stronger, Iím ready at 46 years of age to take on anybody anywhere anytime on any issue when it comes to dealing with the reality and the change of African Nova Scotians. I know how that system works, I know how much money youíve got and if I donít know I know where to go to get that information and I know how to. Not only that, Iím better versed than you because I can talk on both sides of the situation,
Youíve got the experience of reality.
Thatís right, have you been over here? I can say, Iíve been over there, but have you been over here have you seen things from this perspective? I know where the rocks are. And whoís throwing them!
Well I know youíve got a responsibility that I donít want to keep you too far from it, but there are two questions that I always ask to close. Iíve talked to 35 people now across Canada, First Nations folks and elders and young people and people in all different kinds of struggles. It is my hope that this becomes a conversation among organizers; certainly not just with me. I view myself I hope as a person who can attract people to this conversation among each other,
Let me warn you, my brother, donít come to this as a missionary!
As I said, my hope is, the plan is, that we will invite everyone who has been interviewed to the Institute in June and in that conversation I will be even more of an observer than I am now.
Many people wouldnít even allow you to tape this. I have some understanding
that in my own mind while you access me, Iím accessing you, and that Iím
accessing you should be as important for me as you accessing me. I donít
say that under any kind of animosity, I say it to you because that exchange
is always political. Now the level that you get into the larger conversations,
you always have to work from where youíre at. I can come over here and
help you fight, but I canít do that until I get myself together and win
Itís like people saying, well you know, we should be working on some of these other issues. Well you do you realize that Iím just getting this foot off my chest called racism.
While Iíve been down, I contracted pneumonia, so I got two things Iím fighting, the condition and recovery from racism, and the reality that I got pneumonia while Iím being held on the ground. Now youíre telling me you want me to come over here and clean up the environment. I know Iíve got a responsibility to do that and Iíll help you as soon as I can help myself, not you, but help that situation. Really, when we bring people together I find very much that we can talk, and we share the weekend, but when itís over we go back to where weíve been situated. The struggle consumes us again, the struggle consumes you. You rarely take time out and even share. Iím going tonight to continue this struggle, you know with the third African Nova Scotian music awards you know, in contrast to the East Coast music awards. We got our own awards, so though we are part of them, but we had to create categories, because in this province if you are competing as a Black person against a white person with their culture and music there is no medium to compete. So therefore you just compete against yourselves, but there will always be somebody who is the best, but then at the same time you need to be collective and a part of, and Iím all for that. But when I go to hundreds of conferences, I've been in the United States, Iíve worked with Dr. Malefe Asante, I worked with Brenda Day Gray in Chicago, Iíve been in Ohio and worked with Matty White in Dayton, Ohio, Iíve worked with a number of educators, Iíve been to Detroit and the National Black Educators, Iíve been to London, Iíve been to England, Botswana, South Africa. No matter where I went for African people, itís the same organizations, the same struggle, the same kind of group. The same issues in terms of the reality of dealing with the magnitude of culture and racism. When Iíve met African people there who were dealing with the reality of racism, itís been the same, even on the continent. But on the continent it was different. I saw African people who were in charge in a way that they werenít really dealing with racism, they were recovering from colonialism and it was still trying to fathom what had happened.
My, go ahead, sorry,
Just trying to bring closure on it, and sum it up in a meaningful way, because I can babble. The babbling is only sharing the experience that I have had, and giving you the best look inside of me, to be able to know that okay, youíre going to talk about what makes you tick. I donít think that each of those individuals spoken to will have had a different journey, but still the same questions in the same places for what they want to achieve, right, and the journey will have taken them all over here and there. Even in themselves, I mean Iím still going on a journey in my mind. The fact that Iím helping out in my community got me to resolving issues in myself. You know, I have not resolved those issues in myself, and I may or may not before I leave the planet. But if in that legacy I have contributed to some larger things which I may have not have even known about, then so be it. I donít have term to call it itself so people can buy it and believe thatís what it wasÖ
Itís a tricky question.
Itís a tricky question, but itís about the reality of that term, compartmentalizing. I think of the Black history curriculum, and the group of people who get it. Theyíre dead serious about what theyíre doing, but they also recognize politically that the institution where these things are carved out at, the institution they work in every day, only recognizes things like that which ultimately then will become recognized by the system. If itís in that book and somebody has endorsed it then it will become part and parcel of the delivery of human experience and education and across all generations from the tiny classroom in the smallest town. That is how it will evolve in terms of getting accredited and kids will actually get the informationÖ
The part I like about your answer to that question was that you brought it back to the question of the reality of the kid in the classroom and the teacher and the people who are going to have to make the actual day to day political decisions. You can decide a policy that doesnít have that in it, itís just a game.
Exactly. You can call whatever I got on what you want, I call it clothes, it keeps me warm.
Exactly. My two wrap up questions have always been, what did I forget to ask and, if this is a conversation among organizers, what question do you have for others, what observation or question to put on the table in that conversation?
The first question Dave, you werenít asking me anything, I was babbling
and you offered me the opportunity to share. On the second question, hopefully
our struggles will cross.