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Black History Month: An Interview with Lindell Smith

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lindell Smith was born and raised in the north-end of Halifax, which is home to many members of the city’s Black community. Mr. Smith is the co-founder of Centreline Studio – a not-for profit recording studio and arts centre in Halifax dedicated to local youth. The studio allows youth to express themselves, whether it be through spoken word, poetry, rapping, singing or something altogether different. The studio also collaborates with other organizations, having done plays for Neptune Theatre in Halifax, and members of the studio have travelled to other provinces to perform. Mr. Smith is also the Community Library Assistant (Teen Focus) at the Halifax North Memorial Library, where he designs programs for children and teens.1 Mr. Smith spoke to me about why Black History Month is so important in Nova Scotia and what challenges face Black Nova Scotian youth today.

Lindell Smith is on the right side of the image wearing a plaid collar shirt. He is surrounded by a group of younger kids, most of whom are just below shoulder height. They are all smiling and looking at the photographer.
Lindell Smith with Nova Scotian youth at WeDay Atlantic, where he spoke to over 10,000 kids from Atlantic Canada. Photo courtesy of Lindell Smith.

 

Why is Black History Month, which is a nationally recognized observance, especially important in Nova Scotia?

As a society we know the importance of celebrating culture and history all around Canada. The reason why Black History Month is so important to Nova Scotians – especially the descendants of Black Nova Scotians who helped found this province – is because of the historic roots you can trace back to the 1700s and further, with many Black Nova Scotians’ ancestors being directly from Nova Scotia. The Black communities – some no longer standing – hold great importance to us. With Nova Scotia being the province with the longest standing history of Blacks in Canada, I believe it is important to not only to keep Black kids and youth educated but also the many other Nova Scotians that do not know the history.

What events in the history of Black Canadians have made you proud? What events have made you sad or angry?

When I think of the history of Black Canadians, I think of the amazing accomplishments and movements that happened here in Nova Scotia. Mayanne Francis was the first Black Nova Scotian and the second woman to serve as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. William Hall was the first Black person, the first Nova Scotian, and third Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross. Organizations and programs forming like the Black United Front or the Dalhousie Transition Year program or even Nova Scotian government recognizing our history is important and celebrating provincial heroes like Viola Desmond who was a successful businesswoman and human rights activist.

Also we have to remember the tragedies and issues that Black Nova Scotians faced in the past and are still dealing with in the present. One important story is the displacement of the people of Africville, but more tragically the destruction of Africville itself. It still has an effect on the families and relatives who once called Africville home. Another story is the tragic history of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, and the effect that this has had on the community. It is important that the government has taken steps to apologize and also create the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry.2 They must show some accountability and willingness to step forward.

What do you think are some of the big challenges facing Black Canadians today?

Black Nova Scotians are facing a number of issues. There is a long history of lower-than-average scores in academic performance for our Black learners. There is also the feeling of displacement of Black Nova Scotians in their communities, where development and gentrification has created the feeling of being “pushed out.” Many do not feel represented in the Nova Scotia workforce as well as the educational system, and then there is still discrimination and racism faced in school, work and everyday life.3

You co-facilitate at an arts centre for youth. Do you think helping youth to express themselves through music and the arts can promote racial inclusion and human rights? 

When you give youth – especially in the African Nova Scotian community – the opportunity to express themselves either through music or visual arts, you always give youth the opportunity to talk about inclusion. Most youth in their music talk about what is happening in their daily lives, positive and negative. When they talk about wanting to be accepted or understood it is mostly because people outside of their community don’t understand what is happening to them – on a daily basis – In their communities. Most times when you dig deeper and start to ask questions it comes back around to race or not feeling represented.

You can explore stories about Black Nova Scotians – such as Viola Desmond’s struggle against racial segregation or the relocation of the community of Africville – at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

 

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1 All information from Heather Laura Clarke, “Rising Stars Shining Bright,” Halifax Chronicle-Herald. http://thechronicleherald.ca/community/halifax/1186546-rising-stars-shining-bright

2 The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is a former Halifax orphanage. In 2014 the province of Nova Scotia formally apologized to former residents, many of whom had experienced years of abuse. CBC News, “Home for Colored Children apology: N.S. says sorry to ex-residents.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/home-for-colored-children-apology-n-s-says-sorry-to-ex-residents-1.2794728 (accessed February 1, 2016).

[3] For more information: http://www.metronews.ca/news/halifax/2016/01/28/high-number-of-black-students-on-ipps-worries-halifax-mother.html