Connection Magazine Fall 2020 — Racial Justice: Black Lives Matter

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C NNECTIONS Fall 2020 | Volume 3, Issue 2


C NNECTIONS Why Isn’t Racism Named in the Code of Ethics? (page 12)

A PRIVATE PRACTITIONER’S WORK OF SERVICE In Conversation with Lana MacLean (page 16)

C NNECTIONS COMBATTING DUAL PANDEMICS The ABSW’s Collaborative Approach (page 20)

CHALLENGING OUR SOCIAL JUSTICE LENS 2021 Conference & Annual General Meeting Online, May 2021 A series of crises has highlighted a few of the realities we witness – and perhaps perpetuate – as social workers. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the intertwined effects of social determinants of health that have been systemically neglected or ignored: inequities in income, employment and housing; racism, including our own; violence in relationships; and vulnerabilities and gaps in health and mental health service delivery. This virtual conference will create opportunities for members of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers and others to connect online, plan, discover, and collaboratively develop social justice praxis. Questions? Contact Annemieke Vink at



Fall 2020 | Volume 3, Issue 2

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Volume 3, Issue 2


Racial Justice: Black Lives Matter


Become a Candidacy Mentor


April - August 2020






Celebrating Exceptional Social Work





The Absence of Racism as a Fundamental Concern in Ethics in Social Work Work of Service







A Collaborative Approach to Combatting Dual Pandemics On George Elroy Boyd

From Community to City Council

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Racial Justice: Black Lives Matter

As we enter the final quarter of this strange and challenging year, I once again have the privilege to introduce a new issue of Connection magazine to our members, and readers. In this issue, our contributors consider anti-racist advocacy and social work praxis, particularly as these intersect with the Black Lives Matter movement. Our annual conference in May was cancelled because of the need for social distancing measures; on page 10 we shine a spotlight on the award recipients who would have been honoured during the event. One of our contributors directly challenges the Code of Ethics, which speaks to diversity but does not name racism (page 12). On page 16, a distinguished private practitioner discusses the challenges experienced by African Nova Scotians who seek services that are culturally relevant and competent, and by Black social workers practicing within systems that were not designed with their communities’ needs in mind. Turn to page 20 to read about how the Association of Black Social Workers has been supporting individuals, families and communities in response to both COVID-19 and the pandemic of anti-Black racism. We are ever appreciative to the ABSW for their decades of leadership, innovation, and dedication. We hold space for one celebrated literary figure to pay tribute to another (page 24); George Elliott Clarke eulogizes the late journalist and playwright George Elroy Boyd, and considers how practices of art-making and truth-telling demand social change. Finally, on page 28, we close this issue by interviewing a lifelong Haligonian who was inspired to pursue elected office after years of community-based work, and embraced the challenge of practicing his values at a new, larger scale.

Alec Stratford, MSW, RSW Registrar/Executive Director

We know that this College is not immune to the effects of racism. Our Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice and regulatory programs arose from Eurocentric versions of professionalism, boundaries, and community. We remain committed to identifying and enacting ways to dismantle white supremacy, anti-Blackness and colonialism within the structures of our profession, and in ourselves. The struggle for social justice and equality continues.

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CULTIVATING MENTORSHIP Candidacy mentors are an important link in the model for professional development within the membership of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. We would like to thank the mentors who have guided our Social Worker Candidates through the successful completion of candidacy since this spring. Patricia Bates MacDonald Lisa Beck Sarah Bray George Burrows Joline Comeau Todd Currie Kristopher Farris Megan Gray

Shannon Hardy Gillian Harris-Crocker Denyse Hines Teresa Johnson Jeff Karabanow Kassandra Knight Mary MacFarlane Nancy MacIsaac

Skylar Pothier Suzanne Pothier Jo-Anne Pushie Jill Robertson Alphonsine Saulnier Kristen Small Jeff Thoms Nancy Wright

BECOME A CANDIDACY MENTOR Mentorship is underscored by a climate of safety and trust, where candidates can develop their sense of professional identity. We now offer optional mentor training for members of the College, in the form of a selfdirected online course. We also provide resources to help mentors support candidates’ learning throughout their candidacy. To learn more about the rewards of being a mentor, visit

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8 Connection | Fall 2019

New Private Practitioners, Registered Social Workers, & Social Worker Candidates Approved by Board of Examiners April – August 2020

PRIVATE PRACTICE Jennifer Cantley Sarah Clarke Lee Covin Carol MacLellan Susan McDevitt Michelle McKean Audrey Morrison Brittany Orchard Ryan Earline Sharpe Shabnam Sobhani

REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKERS Anne Amirault Corey Arsenault Danielle Bates Geraldine Beaton Courtenay Black Tara Borden Kimberly Ruth Brooks Rhonda Brophy Stephanie Chapman

Abby Clarke Caseley Cathy Collin Samantha Comeau Marissa de Blois Katrin Doll Alicia Elliott Victoria Ellison Ian Ford Jane Gavin-Hebert Rachel Goldie Miranda Hall Jennifer Huskilson Emma Lamptey Gillian Ann Landry Melanie Lapointe Terrence Lewis Bhreagh McKinnon Audrey Morrison Meaghan Dawn Norris Luz Palacio Lai Yin Pun Christine Riordan Cary Ryan Hannah Stewart Eileigh Storey MacDougall Mara Toombs

Jason Tucker Emileigh Van Dusen Melaney White Samual Wright

SOCIAL WORK CANDIDATES Nabila Acra Isa Kaylie Adamski Josee Babin Margaret Bagg Jenna Benoit Julie Berkers Jessie Bouchard Katie Brogan Karsyn Buchner-Duby Bailey Chapman Joseph Clayton Alexandria Copp Brent Cosgrove Shauna Davies Megan Flynn Faye Fraser Marissa Hadley Megan Holloway Ashton Isnor

Katelyn Junus Stephan Kendall Tamsyn Loat Yvette Lombard Lacey Lozier Alexandra MacFarlane Madeline MacIntyre Natasha MacSween Anna McCully Andrea McIntyre Evelyn Mosher-Sabine Yuming Nichols Abieyuwa Olowu Morgan Porter Luke Rankin Amanda Ruelland Basem Samaan Gillian Schmid Aziza Selim-Omar Rachel Sequeira Justin Thornton Caityln Williams Michelle Williams Amiee Windle

Join the conversation


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CELEBRATING EXCEPTIONAL NOVA SCOTIA SOCIAL WORKERS At our annual conference we recognize the contributions of social workers in our province. Though the 2020 conference was cancelled, we are still proud to offer congratulations and thanks to all of our annual award recipients.

David William Connors Memorial Award WENDY GREEN | MSW, RSW For three decades, Wendy has practised exemplary trauma informed social work, and provided outstanding treatment for children and families in Nova Scotia. She has tirelessly worked with and advocated for many of our most vulnerable children and families. Wendy has also been integral in setting the stage and assisting in the review and rebuilding of processes that include the child’s voice within our justice system. She also goes above and beyond for the clients she serves. She continues to passionately work with a familycentred lens, both with the IWK and as a private practitioner. Her nominator, Coleen Flynn, tells us that Wendy leads by example within our profession by mentoring, providing consultation, offering sessional instruction at Dalhousie University, and sharing her experience and knowledge within our social work community.

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Ron Stratford Memorial Award ANGELA PEH Kristyn Anderson nominated Angela for this award as an example of how social workers are leaders in their communities and initiate change with their community. They met when Angela was completing her MSW placement at Hants Community Hospital, in mental health. After a successful career in child welfare, Angela had returned to school as a mature student, ready to learn and ready to do more for the clients she worked with. Over the past several years, joining with parents, coaches and managers, Angela has supported the implementation of a grassroots mental health initiative within a HRM minor hockey league. She has co-created information sessions for coaches, players, managers and parents around the importance of mental health in hockey, and brought in resources for people on teams to know where to go if there are concerns or crises with a player’s mental health. She has found community leaders to speak to the community about this topic, and made mental health a priority within the organization. While being a busy parent and a full time clinician in mental health, Angela has made time to find and collaborate with like-minded people in her community, to support the well-being of children involved in organized sports, and ultimately to be a force for positive change.

Ken Belanger Memorial Award JAQI ALLAN Jaqi was nominated by Norma Jean Profitt, who describes Jaqi as a social worker with an explicit and unfailing commitment to pursuing social justice by challenging oppression and injustice in its myriad forms. Jaqi offers alternatives for a better world. She emulates the qualities of Ken Belanger through the clarity and tenacity with which she persistently addresses these social justice realities. She exhibits great integrity and stellar social ethics, extending ethics beyond those involved in the social worker-client dyadic relationship. Members of queer and trans communities know that Jaqi will go above and beyond to serve LGBT+ people with caring, compassion, and social responsibility, particularly youth. She has been a pioneer in offering services to the LGBT+ population; she completed assessments for hormone therapy for transgender persons long before the Nova Scotia Health Authority formalized this service. Jaqi has also shown her commitment to social justice through academic work, for example, contributing as co-author to several chapters in a forthcoming book entitled Counseling Ethics from the Margins: The Lived Experiences of Practitioners. She has been an active union member for many years, seeking to uphold the rights of workers in fair and just ways. Jaqi Allan’s perseverance and dedication meet all requirements of this prestigious award.

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Social work as a profession has always been a normativebased profession, focusing on ethics as a foundational concept. Ethics refers to a systematic exploration of our relationships to others, paying attention to harms and benefits, and concern for human flourishing and social justice. However, when one looks at the vehicles for evaluating ethics, such as codes and decision-making models, and the texts addressing ethics in social work, the absence of the

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recognition of racism as a fundamental problem in social work ethics is striking. For instance, in the Nova Scotia Code of Ethics, while there is recognition of ‘diversity’ and one mention of ‘discrimination’, a search of the term ‘racism’ does not reveal a single mention. Respect for and celebration of diversity are laudable goals, but they ‘whitewash’ the more troubling and insidious reality of racism in social work in Canada generally, and Nova Scotia in particular.

Racism is an organizing principle for social relations through the systematic use of power by whites to dominate nonwhites. It extends beyond individual acts to whole structures, ideologies and epistemologies. It results in the reduced life chances for racialized individuals in longevity, health, employment, and material wealth, to name just some of the areas in which racism has been well documented.

Social work is not immune to racism. The overinclusion of racialized service users in our social welfare and justice systems is not new.

Racialized refers to those who are of African descent, people of colour, and Indigenous individuals. For instance, Aboriginal children are vastly over-represented in out of home placements in the child welfare system in Canada, being 12 times more likely to be placed in care than non-Aboriginal children (TRC, 2015). In Halifax, street checks were declared illegal since the police disproportionately checked racialized individuals, especially young Black men (Wortley, 2019), leading to increased rates of incarceration. Now with the novel

coronavirus, those inequities have been exacerbated. It is no wonder that the pandemic of racism has been re-exposed and the Black Lives Matter movement reinvigorated. How do we explain that as a profession, despite atrocious disparities facing racialized communities and many of our service users, there has been so little attention to this as a fundamental issue in ethics? Based on two research projects in Canada, I found a huge divide between what racialized and white practitioners regarded as ethical problems. Those who were racialized consistently raised issues of racism as ethical challenges directed towards service users and themselves, while that discourse was generally absent from white settler practitioners in these studies. For example, a racialized worker was horrified at the apprehension of a child from a family she knew well, having no explanation except that the mother “was Black and she had a disability.” A hospital social worker of African descent stated that a patient “didn’t want the Black girls looking after him.” In relation to her work colleagues, another racialized social worker stated, “you are measured against [the] mainstream which is [a] Eurocentric, white viewpoint.” A fourth argued, “microaggressions happen every single day…It’s the subtle messages … that this is not your place.”

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There are many reasons of this absence in social work ethics. A key one for me is that codes of ethics are based on deontology. Deontology, a philosophical theory, contends that morality is founded on one’s intentions to fulfill one’s obligation based on respect for persons, treating them as ends, not means; and on the utilization of universal principles to guide ethical decision-making.

Regardless of the reasons for these omissions, we as professionals, and white social workers in particular (myself included), must make dealing with racism a top priority, recognizing its absence as a basic ethical shortcoming in our profession.

However, Immanuel Kant, who was the key theorist

1. Mills, C. W. (1997). The racial contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

for deontology, was also the architect of a hierarchy of races. Who ‘counted’ as a ‘person’ did not include racialized individuals, for him or other white, urban, privileged male philosophers whose work led to the construction of present-day approaches to ethics (Mills, 1997). Even if one argues that we can separate the failings of men from their theories, questions arise about what constitutes ‘universal’ principles? Universal, according to whom? How do we account for context and history? How do we deal with the structural elements of racism that are so deeply embedded in our practice and institutions? In my study, an Indigenous worker reported: “the ethical dilemma isn’t in the duty to report. It’s what happens after the duty to report. That you set a whole mechanism in place that doesn’t recognize…the history of why someone would act in the way that they do. That doesn’t recognize the disrupted attachment, doesn’t recognize …the impact of generational trauma … And our social workers … that …aren’t Aboriginal, do they understand what happens … when you have to enforce a duty to report with Aboriginals sitting in front of you?” Thus, when utilizing ‘universal’ principles for examining ethics, how are issues of diversity and difference taken into account when one is not part of the dominant group? Whose notion of ‘universal’ counts?

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2. Wortley, S. (2019). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Street checks report. Human rights commission. University of Toronto. 3. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (TRC). (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. Summary of the final report of the truth and reconciliation commission. trcinstitution/index.php?p=3. Downloaded May 23/17.

MERLINDA WEINBERG is a professor of social work at Dalhousie University. Before obtaining her PhD. in 2004, she was a practicing social worker for 25 years. Research interests include ethics in social work practice, and the impacts of neoliberalism and diversity on professional ethics. She has a published book, Paradoxes in Social Work Practice. Mitigating Ethical Trespass as well as a website on ethics: http://ethicsinthehelpingprofessions.socialwork.dal. ca/. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council short-listed Dr. Weinberg in 2008 as the top new researcher in Canada and she was awarded a Senior Fellowship at Durham University, UK, in 2017.

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Ed. note: this interview has been edited for length and readability.

woman, I was passionate to work in African Nova Scotian communities and with women’s issues in employment and

SHALYSE SANGSTER: How did you get started as a social

intimate partner violence.

worker? What influenced this career path?

LANA MACLEAN: I grew up in a faith practice. Social justice and equity have always been a part of my faith journey. Since I was a kid, I’ve been raised to do “God’s work,” in terms of volunteering in marginalized communities. I pursued a BA in community studies at CBU to understand community resiliencies, building community capacity and supporting marginalized communities. Afrocentricity became popular and people began looking at issues from an antioppressive and anti-Black racism perspective. Being a Black

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I then went to DAL for my BSW. I learned from white women who were allies and feminists about advocacy and social justice work. When doing my MSW, I gained experience working with Black youth in a community setting and white youth in a healthcare setting. I noticed the impacts of racialized trauma and questioned how those social cultural influences impacted decisions. I didn’t see Black youth accessing the healthcare supports, even though I saw them struggle in the community.

I questioned: why aren’t they accessing the traditional mental health and addictions programs? I wondered: how can we, from an Afrocentric perspective, care for Black youth around substance use? This gave me an opportunity to compare and contrast difficulties between access points and clinical treatment modalities. What I was being taught didn’t work for both groups of youth. I had to identify a cultural lens; some treatments were helpful for white youth but not transferrable to Black youth. This challenged me clinically to derive different ways of knowledge translation that was culturally relevant.

S: What motivated your transition into private practice? L: I decided to open a private practice because there were not many Black clinicians at the time. I had great mentors and allies who provided supervision and support. My experiences drove my interest in continuing to work with racialized youth, women and families. I realized that you cannot work with youth unless you have the capacity and desire to work with families. I also realized how people define families can be very specific to their lived experiences. Within the African Nova Scotian communities, family doesn’t always mean biologically related.

S: Has your work in private practice exposed you to any new awareness of the gaps in services delivered to African Nova Scotian communities?

L: Not just access to services, but timely access to quality clinicians who have a practice of cultural humility and cultural competency.

Another issue is that most practitioners work in the health authority. When you work within a system, you can’t always vest interest in the African Nova Scotian community in the way that is using the best practice model for those particular needs. The best practice models, or the best practice, doesn’t always reflect the best interest of the African Nova Scotian community. The healthcare system can actually marginalize racialized people because they haven’t yet developed a strong cultural competency clinically to meet the best interest of racialized communities. Although we have a free healthcare system, we have access and cultural competency issues.

S: In your opinion, how do we close the gaps? L: In order to be responsive to the needs of community, there has to be some capacity-building within the social work school that allows for academic learning to address how we work with marginalized communities. Without offering professional development, they are not being responsive to filling in a gap of service delivery, and communities will suffer. We all have an accountability to acknowledge how and what we’re doing to support access to care for the African Nova Scotian community. White social workers have the responsibility of learning the skillset and being equipped to work with diverse communities. Articulating what’s been happening, giving it language and context in the community to talk about racialized trauma, impacts of systemic racism, mental health and wellness. The conventional models, even the DSM, have asked us to ensure we are taking a cultural formulation, and take culture into consideration when doing the work that we do. Otherwise we are being negligent as a clinician.

There aren’t many Black private practice social workers. Most of us are working two or more jobs, and do private practice part time. This is largely due to the legacy of racism in employment and poverty; we have to maintain a full time job and provide clinical service to our communities part time. Thus, access to us in private practice is limited. Clients should have the ability to say: I want to see someone who looks like me, walks like me, understands me, and I don’t have to attend to their ambivalence to issues of race, or have to help the clinician navigate if they aren’t comfortable asking, “how does being Black impact your life,” or “how does racism impact your life.” Our current assessment and intake tools don’t ask those important questions. Therefore, they don’t present as a safe place for African communities to enter when, from the minute you walk in the door, no one asks the questions or even acknowledges in the room that race matters. It’s important for clinicians to be able to speak to that.

Lana MacLean

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S: How else could we respond to the needs of African Nova Scotian communities more effectively? L: I encourage other Black social workers to give some consideration to open a private practice, enhance clinical skills, and participate in professional development. I take on learners through preceptor roles, mentor other Black clinicians, and hire associates at my practice. I often question the legacy I’m leaving in the community through the work that I’m doing. This includes my own personal accountability of: what seed did I plant so someone else can have a stepping point. We need to share the knowledge. Having a critical race analysis around issues of mental health and addictions, and being willing to ask tough questions of yourself and others. Having difficult conversations with clinicians both Black and white; just because you’re Black doesn’t mean you have a good critical race analysis on those issues. It’s also about understanding complexities of racism, and its interplay on race and class. As a member of the African Nova Scotian community, I’m not even sure how many Black private practitioners are out there. I would think less than 10. It would be helpful to have a resource list of Black practicing clinicians who can help bridge access, so when people ask “who are the Black therapists in the city who work with BIPOC people?” we can say, “oh, I know this person!” We in private practice and of African descent should pull together with the College to create a committee in which we do our own clinical supervision, to discuss our

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specific needs. I would encourage all mentors to get together to discuss what is important, and ensure core competencies are addressed.

Organizations aren’t always safe places for Black people to work. There’s the balance that you want to do the work but you are the only Black clinician in the building. There’s racial aggressions, anti-Black racism and macroaggressions that you’re exposed to even within the organization that we work in. Black clinicians are able to help give mental health literacy in a way that makes sense to the African Nova Scotian community, to validate what’s really happening in their lives. The way we ask questions, through cultural literacy or cultural framing, can give people culturally responsive ways to understanding how mental health impacts their lives. To say from a CBT perspective to avoid your thoughts? Well, Black people can’t avoid racism, and when it happens to us it can be enraging. So, normalizing some of the behavioural responses instead of mitigating or ignoring it. Doing psychoeducation in the community is one thing that is really valuable: workshops with youth and seniors; dementia and elder care; shame/blame in the community, what it looks like and operationalizes; how to work with people who have been emotionally/sexually

traumatized by immediate family members, considering that family is such a high core value in our community; how do you “take the business out of the home” when that is actually doing more harm than good; how to break silences, etc. The clinical work is liberating work.

and impacts that disrupt good client care. Discuss how we support people and ourselves through vicarious trauma. We are a psychosocial support to each other. This mentorship, along with ABSW and HAAC, has been instrumental in my career.

S: How do we become more accessible and inclusive?

S: Any final points?

L: Something I’ve always done in private practice is offering

L: Black clinicians can be creative in figuring out the journeys

pro bono support. Volunteerism in my community is my ethical responsibility. Supporting and writing grants, and advocating for culturally specific service delivery. This alone might not fill the gap, but it helps our community to learn to navigate the different pathways to our care and how to trust those pathways – which is a new way forward. I also complete cultural assessments and reports which are used as a tool for building better advocacy and insight for the criminal court and child welfare systems. These reports are used to adequately reflect the social, cultural and gendered identity of the client. This provides a great amount of cultural insight and also helps the client understand their own behaviours and the impacts of racism and culture on their lives.

S: W hat supports have you had throughout your journey in private practice? As a Black social worker, do you feel well supported?

we need to take to do the work we want to do, that is enriching and best supports the African Nova Scotian community. My initial upbringing in the faith practice is: the work we do is work of service. And that trickles into the work I do in my everyday practice as a healthcare social worker working within the healthcare system. The piece of humility in social work practice is that we actually are doing work of service. When you recognize that you are a vessel or an instrument for change, for potential. Just to be present with someone during difficult times, to be able to hear a narrative without judgment. That in itself is service, humility, empathy.

SHALYSE SANGSTER is a social worker based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She graduated from the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Toronto in 2017. She is a member of the Association of Black Social Workers, and has a keen interest in promoting social justice and advocating against Anti-Black Racism.

L: Being able to find the clinical support that I need – if you want to be a good clinician, be with people who are smarter than you. Find a clinical supervision group. We meet monthly, since 1997. They’re smarter than me. People I can learn from, can share knowledge with from a clinical social work lens, have clinical critical discourse, discuss case reviews, larger systemic issues, system opportunities

LANA MACLEAN is a Halifax-based social work clinician who works with individuals, youth and families, and within/ for African Nova Scotian communities. She received the Ron Stratford Memorial Award from NSCSW in 2018, recognizing her commitment, creativity, and leadership in her practice, advocacy and social action.

CONSIDERING PRIVATE PRACTICE? There are 17 Private Practitioners registered with our College who have selfidentified as African Nova Scotian. Only three of these social workers are based outside the capital region. If you are a Black social worker interested in exploring private practice, please visit our website for more information about the registration process, or get in touch with the College.

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For people in the African Nova Scotian community, the year 2020 will be remembered as the year of battling dual pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-Black racism pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone into a different way of living where sanitizing hands, wearing a mask, and connecting virtually for work and with loved ones for communication and play is the new normal. The horrific state violence that led to the murder of George Floyd and the serious injury of Jacob Blake, as well as other traumas, social injustices and blatant acts of anti-Black racism in both Canada and the United States have brought the pandemic of racism to the forefront and to the attention of the wider community, locally and globally.

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Since the formation of the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) in 1979, the organization has sought to address social injustices in the African Nova Scotian community through their volunteer group of Black social workers and human service workers.

An essential social work practice is collaborating with partners, and ABSW’s effectiveness over these past 41 years is largely due to its ability to work with strategic partners. On March 22, 2020, when the Government of Nova Scotia declared a provincial state of emergency to help contain the spread of COVID-19, ABSW took decisive action to help create awareness in combating this pandemic within the African Nova Scotian (ANS) community. ABSW established a province wide toll-free number where members of the ANS communities can make referrals based on need. This number served as a key navigation tool that answered calls, queries and questions, provided support and services, and when appropriate made referrals based on the needs of individuals and organizations in the African Nova Scotian community. ABSW quickly partnered with the Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC, a non-profit health association established in 2000 to promote and improve the health of African Canadians through education, research, health-care delivery and policy reform) to create and deliver on a response and impact plan. This collaboration resulted in the formation of the ABSW/ HAAC COVID-19 Response Team. By bringing in other partners, they were able to provide province-wide services to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 throughout the African Nova Scotian communities and to address local needs as they arose. Driven by the need for culturally specific resources to inform and equip the community with timely and relevant information, the ABSW/HAAC COVID-19 Response Team modeled the African proverb “sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Some of the supports provided by the Response team were: • Sanitation supplies (i.e. wipes, disinfectant sprays, gloves) • Food distribution •C ulturally specific educational information on COVID-19 on social distancing, wearing a mask, staying safe and washing your hands • Technology assistance for seniors •S helter for those who tested positive with COVID-19 and were not able to self- isolate, including transportation, meals and a comfort gift bag • Mental health consultants for individuals and group counselling

Photos provided by ABSW

• Spiritual consultations • Community grief sessions

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The success of the collaboration was due in large part to the variety of partners involved. • An educational coordinator provided their knowledge and experience to the educational queries and requests that were identified via the toll-free number. This was essential to those families who were trying their best to provide home schooling for their children. •M any African Nova Scotian communities are grounded in spirituality and hence, the African United Baptist Association (AUBA), played a key role in offering spiritual consultations and general counselling to many. • The Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs supported the Response Team by acting as a navigator in accessing various government programs and services, and appointed a staff person to be the main contact. • The Department of Community Services (DCS) supported the Response Team with staffing and financial support to assist in shelter relocation and the provision of food to the Preston Township communities. DCS also provided training to ABSW staff and volunteers who worked the toll-free line on screening and registering individuals who may qualify for DCS programs established to assist during the COVID-19 crisis. Community involvement is central to ABSW’s work, and this initiative required grassroots input and information to the Response Team on what was needed in community in real

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time, and how best to communicate it. Working with the ABSW community intermediary, community coordinators were strategically recruited and positioned in all parts of the province and provided timely information on the various community needs. This enabled the Response Team to ensure that services were available, relevant and culturally specific in each of the ANS communities. When the anti-Black racism pandemic was brought to the world’s attention through social media, it was a painful reminder of the trauma endured by people of African descent. As APA President Dr. Sandra L. Shullman says:

We are living in a racism pandemic… The health consequences are dire. Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.

The anti-Black racism pandemic signaled the Response Team, partners and community intermediaries to host a series of wellness check-ins for the African Nova Scotian community on a range of topics, including grief, parent support, youth engagement and several overall health and wellness discussions. The overriding concern of the Response Team was to ensure that the mental health needs of people were being identified and addressed, in the midst of the pandemic.

REFERENCES: 1. ‘We Are Living in a Racism Pandemic’ says APA President, Kim I. Mills, May 29, 2020, releases/2020/05/racism-pandemic

A widely used proverb states, “They thought they could bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.” This proverb speaks to the resilience of the African Nova Scotian community in combating the dual pandemics of 2020. Recognizing that there could potentially be another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Response Team is now focused on preparing for the longer-term impact. In addition, we acknowledge that the systemic pandemic of anti-Black racism requires systemic responses. To that end, ABSW is committed to working with allies, partners and systems to help facilitate real change to address social injustices in Nova Scotia.

To learn more about the ongoing work of the Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers, visit their website at Connect with the Health Association of African Canadians at

Emotionally Focused Therapy Externship (EFT) Online Atlantic Canada November 13 – 14, 2020 and November 27 – 28, 2020 10 am – 6 pm (AST) ONLINE, LIVE via ZOOM Optional home room Nov. 14, 27, and 28 from 9 am – 10 am (AST)

For more info: or email:

Fall 2020 | Connection 23

Portrait of George Elroy Boyd, provided by his family

ON GEORGE ELROY BOYD Or, Reading plays as social work(s) BY GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE

The premature death of George Elroy Boyd, aged 68—in Montreal, on July 7, 2020—received even less notice than his quiet—almost serene—demeanour tended to arouse during his life. Despite having become the first African-Canadian national news anchor upon the birth of CBC Newsworld in 1989, nearly 21 days passed before Boyd’s obituary was posted, commentaries circulated, and the accolades bruited. However, though the African-Nova Scotian playwright and journalist loved to see his stories staged and to tell the stories of others through the TV lens (and screen), he was, personally, so affable as to be nearly self-effacing and so modest as to seem mute. Evidently, he was a writer who let his characters voice his quandaries and who let his plots disclose the infernal dilemmas of being Black—and “Bluenose”—in a province sodden with spirits (spectral and liquid) and often dripping salty water, salty tears, or salty blood.

Born in 1952, Boyd grew up a North End Haligonian, in a part of town known for iconic boxers, iconoclastic rogues, and diets heavy on sauerkraut and mackerel, fish-n-chips and ale, and mustard and malt vinegar.

Boyd spent his youth among a macédoine mix of neighbours: Acadian, Black, Brit, Chinese, Mi’kmaq, Newf, plus immigrants from round the globe, as well as peripatetic sailors, anchored in Halifax a spell and then anchors aweigh’d again. Boyd’s North End peers back-in-the-day belonged to the struggling classes—from the jobless to the part-time worker, from the pensioner to the welfare-recipient, and from the poor to the worse-off, that is to say, anyone who appeared in police reports as having “No Fixed Address.”

While Boyd may have rubbed shoulders with charismatic toughs, rough-and-tumble athletes, cigar-chomping philosophers, and I-don’t-take-no-guff-from-anyone women, he also would have encountered the proud citizens of Africville as they went to earn livings as maids and day-labourers, and he would also have heard their specific and pictureseque lingo—African Nova Scotian Veracular English—right along with the four-letter-word-only vocabulary of the sailors and the raw, ear-scalding Billingsgate of the addicts, the addled, the bawdy, the crooks, the derelicts, and the drunks. In becoming a playwright, he couldn’t have asked for a better schooling, so to speak, than in the real earthy, concrete, pungent, and analytical palaver of citizens who were often drop-outs or who’d been prevented—by poverty, racism, sexism, classism— from getting much further than Grade 3, let alone Grade 9. They may not have parleyed the then-young Queen E’s English, but they had street smarts, the guttural grammar of workplace and pub, and the outrageous proverbs derived from gossip or tall tales as exciting as any soap-opera (so you laugh until you bust your guts and the tears burst out). This was the milieu to which writer Boyd learned to cup an ear and to cut his teeth on. But he’d also have nosed through a riot of smells: salt-scent harbour, Oland’s beer brewing, Piercey’s fresh sawdust, Moirs’ chocolates, “Maaaaaaackerel” shilled by Prestonian fish merchants, home-chimney smoke, frequent fog, Ben’s bread stacked for delivery, the Enn-Ess slaughterhouse blood, cigarettes puffed from lips and gum crackled in jaws, and, of course, sometimes, the aroma of the city dump. Now, a playwright and a social worker may seem worlds apart, but Boyd understood that their skills—if unrecognizable to bankers—are similar: attention to narrative, to life stories, to the wincing that Pain wins, to the repugnance that Oppression merits, and to recognize that every psychology is an extract of blood and guts, and that Sociology itself is the mealy-mouthed sprinkling of euphemisms to gussy up sordid, misshaping, deforming, and unbeautiful class warfare.

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I think that’s what Boyd’s plays undertake: to explore underbelly and backwater, to tunnel—deep drill—his pen into History; to reveal a Black Nova Scotia of handouts and fisticuffs, of maternity-ward screams, of the goddamned who struggle against torments and flounder in waste, and of the godawful, two-faced, inexpiable elites of school guidance councillors, welfare potentates, pogey bureaucrats, criminal (adj.) lawyers, and bogeyman cops. His is no mere clinical irritation because Boyd knows that all is still nunc pro tunc, that our “now” is exactly the same as our “then.” His plays are where New York encroaches upon New Scotland—and Harlem relocates to Halifax.

His plays holler back to “You, the Government of Canada, who are always saying that ‘We the North’ is the land of true freedom and equality, but I call you out as a liar and a hypocrite!” His dramas voice rebuke and righteous calumny.

Africville backyard scene, featuring a boy with his bicycle and a full clothesline of laundry. Photographed by Bob Brooks, 1965.

In plays like Gideon’s Blues and Consecrated Ground, Boyd stages boldly, unswervingly, what he views as the peculiar, treasonous weakness of Black—Africadian—men. In the first play named—which is also the first of his to be staged (in 1985), Boyd presents a portrait of Gideon, a university graduate and father and husband, who cannot find a job commensurate with his education. Not in Halifax! So, Satan materializes in the shape of a Newfoundland-based drug kingpin and promises Gideon the moon in exchange for, well, you-know-what. Tired of living with his wife and son in his mama’s house, and weary of feeling that he’s less than a man, Gideon cuts a deal with the Devil and is soon doing boffo biz supplying crack cocaine to the “hood.” Gideon blows up; he becomes a big-time bigwig; but he’s also dissolving the Black community. Once his crack dealing poisons his own family, his mama puts him down like a rabid dog. It’s an extreme act, one that makes Gideon’s Blues a true tragedy. Consecrated Ground is likely Boyd’s most famous play. It’s a vivisection of the moment when, thanks to Albert Rose’s 1962 recommendation, Halifax city bulldozers began—in 1964—to knock down Africville homes, city garbage trucks began to “relocate” Africville families, while city social workers arrived with promises (few kept) and city lawyers arrived with cash (not too much). By decade’s end, all the 400, mainly Black residents were “relocated” to slums and/or housing projects nigh downtown, thus obliterating a vibrant 150-year-old Black community. Boyd restages the historical event as a contest between the white socio/political class (social workers and municipal government) and the Africville clergy (also backed— in effect—by the Ladies’ Auxiliary). The other central conflict is between husband Willem and his wife Clarisse—or Leasey. They are both Africadian, but Willem desires “integration” with white Halifax, while Leasey values her generations-long homeownership and ancestry in Africville. The debate between the couple remains philosophical until a rat from the next-door dump bites and kills their infant son. Instead of blaming the city for the death of his son, Willem decides to sign away Leasey’s homestead and move. This decision likely terminates the marriage, but, having lost her son and home, Leasey now fights everyone—Willem, the Africville minister, and city officials for the right to bury her boy in “consecrated ground.” Maybe she wins. By play’s end, the Africville cleric sprinkles Africville earth upon the baby’s casket. But it’s winter, and the ground is wind-swept and iced-over. Moreover, bulldozers prowl still, destroying homes. Even if Leasey succeeds, her son will be buried amid a desolate waste. Too old to conceive again, and betrayed by Willem, Leasey’s future is bleak: childless, homeless, and perhaps penniless, but definitely stateless—I mean, adrift. Of course, the physical community is also lost, including the church, and so even the Africville Christians “lose” in their contest with diabolical, white, municipal authority.

Africville houses on either side of a hillside lane. Photographed by Bob Brooks, 1965.

Consecrated Ground was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award for Drama in 2000. Another play, Wade in the Water, was nominated for a Montreal English Critics Circle Award in 2005. Gideon’s Blues got adapted for TV and broadcast in 2010 as The Gospel According to the Blues. Boyd’s other honours include being a playwright-in-association with Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, a writer-in-residence at the Stratford (ON) Shakespearean Festival, representing Canada at a Pakistani theatre festival, and receiving an honorary diploma from the Nova Scotia Community College, and an Atlantic Journalism Award. Clearly, he rightly represented the polarities of class and gender and race on our shores.

Amid the droning doggerel of fog horns, so to speak, Boyd narrates, in his plays, the hard-won elegance of his women characters and the asinine greed of his black men for status and cash (neither of which they get to keep).

These portraits are poignant, gritty, and as harsh as the display of a dead deer roped to a car hood. Thus, Boyd

deserves commemoration, to have his plays mounted again and again, to be celebrated as a fine African-Canadian playwright because of the truth that his characters—scruffy sad sacks and renegade angels—gab like us, gabble like us, blab like us, babble like us, rap like us, bullshit and banter and toss around balderdash and yinkyank like us. Boyd does what Shakespeare does: gives us the vox populi, the way dudes and dames really speak. No longer subsidiary can be our applause….

GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1960. He grew up in North End Halifax, and had (former) social worker and (democratic) socialist Alexa McDonough as his kindergarten teacher. Clarke is now a significant Canadian literary figure, a scholar of AfricanCanadian and Africadian (African-Nova Scotian) literature, and a tenured professor at the University of Toronto. Appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia in 2006 and, in 2008, to the Order of Canada at the rank of Officer, Clarke’s latest poetry work is Portia White: A Portrait in Words (Nimbus, 2019) and his latest CD, with musical group The Afro-Metis Nation, is Constitution (2019). He served as Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (2016-17).

Fall 2020 | Connection 27

28 Connection | Fall 2020

FROM COMMUNITY TO CITY COUNCIL Micro, mezzo and macro scales of change BY REBECCA FARIA

Lindell Smith has been creating change in North End Halifax for years.



Smith later took that peer support lens with him into Centreline Studios, a nonprofit recording studio that he cofounded in Uniacke Square alongside Sobaz Benjamin and El Jones. “I realized there wasn’t a space where you could come not only to hang out, but to [share] that organized support which came in the form of music,” says Smith. “You’d have one person who’s going to record, but their friends would be sitting at the table writing while they’re listening to the beat. Or you’ll have the girls who are making a dance to the song that one of the young guys are doing. Or you have the girls who are rapping and then they’d have one of the young guys say, ‘Oh wow that was good, I want to get on that track now, too.’ When you put people in spaces where they can support each other, what comes out of it is amazing. That’s kind of how Centreline kept going, because peer to peer support made people want to come back.”

When he started organizing, Smith was little older than his daughter is now. “I wanted to be involved with changing the community,” he says. “There were many mentors who were around the community, a lot of prominent names, but I felt that [while] growing up, I didn’t have a mentor.” Smith describes a feeling of imbalance: these mentor figures would be present, and would intervene with kids they saw as in need of guidance, but he wasn’t always sure he could reach back to them for support or advice. So he started to get involved with developing peer support within his community.

Now a city councillor, Smith stays involved with initiatives like the One North End (O.N.E.) Community Economic Development Society, which has origins very different from that of Centreline, but enacts similar values through community building and shared support. “I see that continuing as long as the community is accepting of it, and that’s the one important piece of any kind of work,” says Smith. “Hopefully they’re going to be a long standing organization that’s doing good work.”

Nearly every bio written about Smith has the same three facts at its core: he’s the second Black councillor elected in the Halifax Regional Municipality since amalgamation, he’s from Halifax’s North End community, and he’s the father of a young daughter. When asked about her, he answers with pride and gratitude: “I’m very fortunate to have a supportive partner in my daughter,” he says. “She’s my partner in crime. She knows that.” While his role in government is more public than his earlier community work and his former job at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library,, Smith says she’s adapted and thrived. “She’s grown into the role of supporter as much as I have.”

“I didn’t know at the time that was what we were doing,” says Smith. “But it just felt right, that someone my age should also be trying to support someone my age. It really came down to wanting to have peer-to-peer support, and knowing that we do, as young people, have the knowledge and know-how to help each other.”

As he speaks, it becomes clear that Smith is uncomfortable with organizations imposing themselves — without consent and cooperation — on the communities they serve. “I think as nonprofits and service providers, you have to always say to yourself: are we still in a place where we’re not only needed but accepted? Because some people will use a service – because they need it – but don’t enjoy it because of all the

Opposite page photo: Halifax Public Libraries. The library in North End Halifax is a vital gathering place for the community. The sculpture outside its doors features Gottingen Street oral history engraved as poetry, recipes, and memories, watched over by rooftop figures cast from local youth.

Fall 2020 | Connection 29

Lindell Smith, District 8 Councillor, Halifax

things around it. So as service spreads, we’re always going to be thinking: are we doing what’s necessary to make ourselves welcome, and beneficial?”

MACRO Smith has long been vocal about the need for a social policy lens in city government, to create a framework for the kind of systemic change he envisions. Thanks in part to his efforts, the municipal government has begun to define its role in strengthening community health and well-being, equity, and inclusion.

“For me, it really comes down to the impact on people,” says Smith. “I hope that it creates that lens of thinking of the big picture, even if it takes longer. But also, really challenging us as government to do more soul searching in how we approach anything. It can be from how we approach paving all the way to how we open a community centre. “

30 Connection | Fall 2020

When asked what he hopes to carry forward when he leaves elected office, Smith answers, “I want to say, all of it.” He thinks on it for a moment, and then elaborates: “Being an elected official is its own animal in itself, in everything. I don’t even know how to explain it to someone else. What I will say is my decision-making skills have definitely been affected in a good way, because now I have to think not only for my people I represent my district, but also I have to think about a city. And that makes me think about the broader picture.” Smith continues: “I identify as African Nova Scotian. And young – well not that young anymore – Black male from the community, and also my family’s from Preston,” he says. “Even though I say that a politician is my role and it’s not who I am, it is part of my life and I’ll forever be known as that. That’s part of this role and how people see you. But I can’t help but use my lens of young Black male who grew up in the community, so that unconsciously gives me a lens that many people around the table don’t have. It also informs me differently. Most times when I make a decision it’s coming from that place, of this is who I am, and I can’t think of any other way.” Smith identifies the Black Lives Matter Movement as a clear continuation of prior racial justice work. “A lot of what is being said today is what has been communicated for decades. You can go back to the Rocky Jones era,” says Smith. “A lot of what’s being said is being said differently, by younger voices obviously, but it’s not new.”

“North American government hasn’t really represented all of the folks that they’re supposed to represent,” says Smith. “I hope for us that we get to a place where we have more than one person who’s of African descent.

“We’ve missed the mark on making that change, but what we’re seeing with what’s currently going on with the climate, and all of the incidents that have happened more recently, and now the heightened experiences that come with COVID, people are feeling that there’s now this spotlight where we can’t be stagnant.” He mentions American cities dismantling their police forces and starting over, Toronto’s plans for police body cameras, and his own efforts for police reform and accountability in Halifax. “I continue to think of the folks who’ve been doing the work,” says Smith. “I think we’re slowly getting on track, but not at the pace that we need to make the systemic change. Government is a creature of doing things at a sloth’s pace, and is very afraid of jumping forward without making sure all the things are in place. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes that’s bad. But for what we’re speaking of today, we can think of how to move faster.”

get there. And this next election could change that, because there are a few folks who are running who would change that dynamic and look pretty good to win, hopefully. At the same time, there’s still not a lot of people of colour who are running. And it really takes those who have experience in the role to support them. That’s part of what I want to do next time around if I get in, is create that support system that’s needed so folks can get organized early and know what they’re getting into.” Smith’s drive to have more kids – like his younger self, like his daughter – realize their own agency is undeniable. “That’s why I still go to schools and talk about my role and do mock elections and all that stuff,” he says. “I think it’s so important at that young age that kids understand how their cities and democracies work, because one day they’re going to be paying taxes, making decisions. And, who knows, being elected.”

“North American government hasn’t really represented all of the folks that they’re supposed to represent,” says Smith. “I hope for us that we get to a place where we have more than one person who’s of African descent. That we have somebody who’s two generations from wherever Canadian, whether it’s Lebanese or Asian descent. Having somebody who’s Mi’kmaw or Indigenous at our table. More women. Younger people. We can’t have it all with only 16 of us, but I feel that we can

REBECCA FARIA has lived in three provinces and two territories, and her first paycheque was earned by teaching tourists how to pan for gold next to the Yukon river. She has made Halifax her home since 2005, and is currently the communication coordinator at the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

Photo: Halifax Public Libraries

Fall 2020 | Connection 31

Declaration of Systemic Racism The Association of Black Social Workers declares that people of African descent have been living in a global pandemic for over 400 years. The injustices of systemic racism continues to plague our communities in every facet of our lives. What is happening in the United States of America is not a new reality. People of African descent living in Canada – and here at home in Nova Scotia – have endured the psychological trauma of racism for generations. The Association of Black Social Workers remains committed to fighting the social injustices of racism in an effort to support the healthy development of African Nova Scotian communities and demand non-African organizations to no longer remain silent. We are seeking those non-African organizations to join us in solidarity to ensure that the message of BLACK LIVES MATTER resonates loud and clear throughout Nova Scotia, Canada and beyond! Will you join us? To learn more about the ABSW and their work, visit their website at

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