BlackOUT 2.0 sheds light on challenges facing LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians

Members of the community discuss what it means to be black and LGBTQ in the province.

Young LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians should accept themselves and seek out others who support them, a panel called BlackOUT 2.0 said on Wednesday.

“We need to accept ourselves, more than anything,” said Chris Cochrane, a transgender African-Nova Scotian woman. “We have to make sure we are living and accepting our lives to the fullest so we can help other people.”

Cochrane was one of four panellists who spoke at the Halifax Central Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event was advertised as “an open discussion of what it means to be African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) in 2015.”

Robert Wright, Evelyn White, and Axel Obame joined Cochrane on stage. Rev. Elaine Walcott acted as a moderator. They all spoke about how difficult it is to accept yourself when you can’t find others who are accepting of you.

“It is a dialogue that allows for more people to participate in the conversation. Four chairs, one for each panellist, plus two extra chairs. Any LGBTQ African-Nova Scotian who is a black person can sit in one of the extra chairs at any time and join in the discussion,” said Walcott.

The panel talked about the challenges that young LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians currently face.

“Speaking for the younger generation, one of the challenges is being yourself. Because if your environment is unsure of you, you are going to doubt yourself so much more, and it doesn’t help you in the least,” said Obame.

He said that there is some acceptance in the province, “but on a scale of one to 10, it’s like a 3.5, not like an eight.”

He also spoke about how important it is that young African-Nova Scotian LGBTQ people find an outside source that is accepting of them. “When you find that outside voice, it helps you validate everything you’ve been keeping hidden inside,” said Obame.

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The panel stressed the need for improved and more accessible resources for African-Nova Scotian LGBTQ youth.

Walcott said she is open and available to help anyone in the community who is in need. White also promised her support to younger struggling LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians. “As an elder in this community, I have your back,” said White, “and the only thing you are required to be is yourself.”

The panel was split into two parts. The panellists discussed three questions and a short question and answer period followed.

The three main questions were:

  • What does it mean to you for you to be African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ?
  • What are the challenges of being African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ in 2015?
  • What are the opportunities for moving forward regarding being African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ?

Each panellist also made a point of mentioning how rarely events like BlackOUT occur.

“We need more opportunities to share this conversation,” said Wright.

The event was presented by NSRAP (Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project) LGTBQ Youth and Elders Project in partnership with the Halifax Central Library as part of African Heritage Month. The Facebook event page said “all LGBTQ community members, friends, and allies are welcome.”

“This is an event of empowerment and validation. It is certainly a rare and treasured opportunity,” said Walcott. “It’s so powerful to have this opportunity so that others will have a sense that they are not alone.”

News Digest: March 21-24

Catch up on happenings on the Halifax peninsula, as reported by other news outlets.

Needs attempted robbery, gas and dash net 1 arrest (CBC News) 

Halifax Regional Police are investigating two incidents that occurred in Halifax early Tuesday morning. Police say a suspect tried to rob the Needs convenience store on Chebucto Road and Windsor Street at 3:25 a.m. Police allege the same man then stole gasoline about half an hour later from a gas station on Dutch Village Road. Police arrested a 39-year-old suspect.

 Schools closed throughout Maritimes thanks to snow clearing (Chronicle Herald) 

All schools under the jurisdiction of the Halifax Regional School Board were shut down on Monday to allow for snow clearing in order to ensure the safety of students and staff. The board said it needed another day to improve conditions at the schools following last week’s snowstorms. Some schools in northern New Brunswick and Newfoundland, along with the English Language School Board in P.E.I. were also closed.

Related: Halifax cautioning people to make more time and use transit Monday (CBC News)

Two cars collide after police chase in Cowie Hill (Chronicle Herald) 

A driver crashed into another vehicle during a police chase in Cowie Hill on Sunday night. The driver, a 22-year-old man, is charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and flight from police. Officers tried to stop a Honda Civic at Northwest Arm Drive and Cowie Hill Connector for a motor vehicle infraction. The vehicle crashed head-on into a Ford Escape on Mayo Street. The drivers of both vehicles were treated by paramedics at the scene. There were no serious injuries. The accused is due in Halifax provincial court on April 28.

Woman seriously injured after being run over by impaired driver in parking lot: Halifax police (Metro News)

A 31-year-old woman from Cole Harbour suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries after being run over by an alleged impaired driver in a Dartmouth parking lot, on Saturday evening. The driver, a 20-year-old Dartmouth man, was arrested at the scene and is charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm and having a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.

 Arrest made after man stabbed in face outside Halifax Central Library (Metro News)

Halifax Regional Police arrested a 23-year-old man at 10:22 p.m. on Saturday in relation to Tuesday’s stabbing outside the Halifax Central Library. The arrest occurred three days after police say the man fled the scene after stabbing a 35-year-old man in the face. The 23-year-old faces charges of aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for dangerous purpose and breach of probation.


Books hold more secrets than just stories

The Halifax Public Library finds notes and other treasures hidden between book pages.

You make your way to the local library to get your hands on the newest literary sensation. As you near the checkout desk, you peel your eyes away from the page and notice a stray piece of paper poking out the top.

Tugging on the corner reveals it’s in fact a long-lost postcard.

This is one of the many examples of the hidden gems that library staff find in books, says Christina Covert, Halifax Central Library’s circulation supervisor.

“The normal Kleenex, grocery receipts, bills, bank statements — those we see all the time,” says Covert.

A quick walk around the library’s third floor results in a new bookmark, a postcard and tiny sugar-packet-sized drawing being added to the collection of forgotten items.

Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)
Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search of books at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)

Covert says she’s seen everything from toilet paper and condom wrappers to government cheques stuck between pages.

For important items, such as debit and credit cards, the library tries to track down the owner. If their efforts turn up empty, the library typically holds on to items for about a month before throwing them out.

Then there are little notes purposefully stuck in a book’s spine.

“I especially like the ones where people recommend a particular book,” says Covert, “Like, ‘If you like this then you might also like that,’ type of thing.”

Although the library doesn’t condone leaving things in books, sometimes it’s hard to prevent.

“If it’s on a small piece of scrap paper, we won’t notice unless it falls out,” says Covert. “Books can go for month and months without us knowing someone’s put something inside it.”

Kasia Morrison, a spokeswoman for the library, says last fall she saw a book and there was a note in it stating the book had come all the way from Iceland.

Flipping through the pages reveals it’s the property of the Library and Archives Canada, and was last checked out in 1987. Morrison is unsure how – or why – it ended up at the central location.

“Someone wanted to clear their library conscience and return it,” she says with a laugh.

Safe to say, the note was anonymous.

Covert’s favourite note actually came from a children’s book. “It was a list of someone’s goals. ‘When I’m 30, I will have done this’,” she says.

“It was in big letters, some were even backwards,” she says with a smile.

Unfortunately, not all notes are as heartwarming.

“I’ve seen books with notes discouraging people from picking up certain authors,” says Covert.

And that’s if they haven’t defaced the book completely.

“Use your imagination for what you could possibly find in a book. If you can think of it, someone is going to do it, and you can find it if you look hard enough,” says Covert.

Libyan man learns English one dance, song, conversation at a time

English today, microbiology tomorrow? “I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” said Abdurrahman Elajmi.

On Sunday, Abdurrahman Elajmi, along with about six other people from China, Japan, Korea and Kuwait were participating in a program called Community, Culture and Conversation. The program aims to help international newcomers learn English and integrate into the community.

Elajmi was practicing English, square dancing and trying to sing along with the popular folk song, “Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Seven months ago, 25-year-old Elajmi spoke only Arabic and knew no one else in Halifax. Originally from Libya, he came to Canada to study and make a better future for himself.

“I can’t explain my feelings. It’s so hard, so hard.” said Elajmi, remembering the day he first arrived in Canada.

He didn’t know where to buy food, what clothes to wear or anything about Canadian customs.

“We’re trying to provide that safe space for people, a space of belonging,” said Tatjana Samardzic, the program co-ordinator and regional immigrant services library assistant with Halifax Libraries.

The program is organized by Halifax Public Libraries in partnership with Saint Mary’s University.

Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills.
Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

The meetings, led by Saint Mary’s University masters of education students, follow an informal discussion-based format aimed at helping participants improve their English.

Meetings take place every Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the most recent meeting marking Week 6 of the eight-week program.

The Sunday Community, Culture and Conversation meeting explored the history of traditional Nova Scotian music and the music scene in Halifax. Educators suggested local music venues and events to participants and there was a live musical demonstration during the meeting.

Other sessions have focused on garbage and recycling, the Nova Scotian medical system, shopping for food, places to eat and recreational activities.

“I feel excited when I learn. I like it,” said Elajmi.

“We’ve attracted not huge numbers of people, but I think the people that have been coming, some have been returning and coming regularly. So, to me, that’s a measure of success,” said Samardzic. “People find it valuable, they benefit from it. It’s useful to them.”

The Community, Culture and Conversation program is geared toward international students, but other programs are offered through the library for adults as well. They include conversation groups, citizenship classes, tax return assistance and English language classes, to name a few.

Detailed information regarding these programs can be found on the Halifax Public Libraries website or in the “Welcome Newcomers” section of the library magazine called Guide. All programs are free and most don’t require registration.

Heather MacKenzie, Diversity and Accessibility Manager with Halifax Public Libraries, said discussion-based groups seem to work well, and that there are plans for new groups based on this model to start later in 2015.

Halifax has a large international population. At Dalhousie University alone, 14 per cent of the 18,500 students are international students. That’s about 2,600 people.

Statistics Canada estimates  population of Halifax to be approximately 414,400 people, and in 2012, estimated that 3,288 people immigrated internationally to Halifax.

Elajmi studied at the East Coast School of Languages for six months, to improve his English skills.

He hopes to earn a master’s degree in microbiology and become a laboratory doctor specializing in creating drugs to combat diseases like Ebola and malaria.

“I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” he said.

Right now, he’s happy every time he adds an English-speaking contact into his phone.

New children’s book asks readers to use their imagination

Author JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith say the meaning in their wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers is up to the reader’s imagination.

Award-winning poet JonArno Lawson wrote the wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers as an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures—but, more importantly, for readers to create their own interpretation of the story.

Lawson and Sydney Smith, the illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, signed copies of their book for fans of all ages at the book launch on Saturday at the Halifax Central Library. Although the book is for ages four to seven, many adults attended the launch with or without children.

Left: Smith, Right: Lawson, sign the books of fans.
Left: Smith, Right: Lawson, sign the books of fans. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Lawson based the book on a walk he took with his daughter Sophie in June 2008. The story follows a young girl in a red hoodie collecting wildflowers on a walk she takes with her distracted father.

Lawson said he didn’t write the book to specifically convey a lesson rather to allow children and adults to interpret the story in their own way.

“I still think adults can get something out of this…if you’re working with kids it lets the kids tell the story. If you’re showing it to them, it’s them that get to do the talking which is sort of nice,” said Lawson.

Smith said children’s books don’t need lessons or morals. He calls Sidewalk Flowers “an interpretation.”

“It was more of witnessing the beautiful nature of children and appreciating it without being told this is what you have to do,” said Smith.

A crowd gathers to support the launch of picture book Sidewalk Flowers. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
A crowd gathers to support the launch of picture book Sidewalk Flowers. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

This is the first project Smith and Lawson have worked on together. While working on Sidewalk Flowers they collaborated without meeting in person. Smith used Lawson’s notes, storyboard, photos, sketches and manuscript in order to illustrate the book.

“I took the story he had written up in the script and did my hardest to try to live up to his beautiful words,” said Smith.

Smith said he feels it’s better for writers and illustrators to work apart. He said this separation allows for the illustrator to focus on their vision and sometimes publishers prefer that.

Lawson and Smith sign the books of fans. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Andrea MacNevin, a friend of Smith, came to the launch to support him. She too believes the book is important for all ages.

“I think it’s good for kids and adults to read a book with no words, because you can kind of make up your own story,” said MacNevin.

“It’s a touching book.”

Sidewalk Flowers is published by Groundwood Books and is now available at Woozles Children’s Bookstore. It can also be purchased digitally through House of Anansi Press.