Blacks in provincial and federal government and community representatives will convene in Halifax next month for a landmark summit to discuss governance models that facilitate leadership within minority communities and increase awareness of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAE).
The seed for the historic meeting was planted in January 2014 when Tony Ince – Halifax’s Minister of Communities, Culture, Heritage and African Nova Scotian Affairs – accepted Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture & Sport, Michael Coteau’s invitation to attend a Black History Month event in the city.
Coteau said the historic meeting will provide an opportunity for Black government leaders to discuss challenges, exchange ideas and seize opportunities.
“There are other communities in Canada such as the Francophone and the First Nations People who have national discussions,” Coteau said at a press conference in Toronto last week. “We have never had one on how to better position ourselves and work together at the national front. We are going to have a conversation to figure out where the commonalities are and how we can collaborate and work together.”
The summit will be held at the new Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown that will be officially opened on June 6, two days before the start of the three-day summit.
“We felt this was the ideal setting for the summit,” said Ince, a former Halifax waterfront stevedore, hospital patient attendant and Oakwood Collegiate Institute hall monitor and emergency supply teacher. “The centre and indeed Birchtown is sacred ground for people of African descent.”
In 1783, close to 3,000 Black Loyalists migrated from New York to Birchtown in search of freedom following the American Revolution. Declared a National Historic Site 18 years ago, Birchtown was the largest free settlement of Blacks in North America in the 18th century and now the home of the 10,400 square foot interactive centre.
Visitors can trace their heritage through the names in the “Book of Negroes”, a document containing the names of all Black Loyalists who escaped to Canada after the American War of Independence.
The summit will also feature a discussion on ways to empower young people to use the arts to advance the IDPAE objectives.
Peter Flegel, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation director of programs and communications, will lead the discussions.
“As somewhat of a young man who has been involved in the struggle since age 13, I must say how refreshing it is to see African-Canadian government leaders come together in a spirit of non-partisanship to explore ways to empower Canada’s Black communities,” said Haitian-born Flegel, who was Jean’s special advisor and speechwriter when she held the post as Canada’s first Black governor general from 2005 to 2010.
“(With Nova Scotia being the birthplace of the oldest Black Loyalist settlement in North America and the cradle of Canada’s democracy), the upcoming summit will see the essence of these two historical moments breathe vigour into your deliberations as you seek to bring the International Decade to light in Canada. This is very important because the Decade’s themes – recognition, justice and development – remind us that Canada’s march towards democracy and inclusion, our powerful revolution, remains an unfinished affair.
“For a gap continues to separate our national ideals from the lived realities of many, particularly youth who peer in from the margins of the vulnerably exposed to the vultures of profiling, underemployment gangs and terrorist recruiters just to name but a few. That doesn’t mean that achievement isn’t possible or that dreams cannot be fulfilled. When the conditions are right, Canada is a land of boundless opportunities. We have the capacity to close the gap. I say this from experience as I was born an orphan in the poorest nation in the world. But with a loving family, a quality public school education and my involvement in the arts and inclusive faith community, my life trajectory defies the naysayers who claim that someone like me couldn’t make it.”
A prolific musician who has sung in back-up ensembles for Chris de Burgh, Michael Bolton and Paul Anka, Flegel said that offering youth an empowering environment can save lives, transform communities and uplift entire societies.
“That is why you should be commended for electing to place youth leadership at the heart of the deliberations,” he told the organizers. “In so doing, you are sending a powerful signal that the vitality of Canadian society is inextricably linked to the full inclusion of Back youth. You are also demonstrating that government leaders can rise above the partisan fray to give African-Canadians a leadership role in advancing the aims of the IDPAE.”
In addition to Ince and Coteau, the other Black government leaders expected to attend the summit are Ontario Members of Provincial Parliament, Mitzie Hunter and Granville Anderson; Halifax and Alberta Members of the Legislative Assembly, Stephen Gough and David Shepherd, respectively; Quebec Members of Parliament, Tyrone Benskin, Sadia Groguhe and Emmanuel Dubourg; National Assembly of Quebec member, Maka Kotto; British Columbia MP Hedy Fry and senators Anne Cools and Don Meredith.
Nova Scotia-born actor and singer, Jeremiah Sparks and Black Loyalist Heritage Society member and actress, Shelley Hamilton, made appearances at the press conference to launch the summit which is presented by TD Bank.