To commemorate the extraordinary life of Dr. Burnley (Rocky) Jones, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) launched an award in his name last year to be awarded at its International Human Rights Day event.
Since 1950, Human Rights Day is observed by the international community on December 10 to mark the United Nations General Assembly adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A civil rights activist and institution builder, Dr. Jones passed away in July 2013 at age 71.
Last December, the NSHRC posthumously recognized Jones at its Human Rights Day celebration and announced that its individual award to mark the day will be renamed after him.
Activist Scott Jones and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Sergeant Craig Smith were the recipients of the prestigious award presented last week.
“The fact that the Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards carries Rocky’s name makes it all the more special to me,” said Sgt. Smith, who is the site supervisor at the Cole Harbour detachment and head of Halifax District RCMP community policing and victim services units. “He was someone who I respected and whose opinion I enlisted. His contribution to the life of Black Nova Scotia is immense in terms of social justice and racial equality.”
Since 1999, Smith has published four books, including The Journey Continues: An Atlantic Canadian Black Experience which the Nova Scotia Department of Education approved as a resource tool for Grade Eight Social Studies and Grade 11 African-Canadian studies classes and You Had Better Be White by Six A.M.: The African-Canadian Experience in the RCMP, which he has updated.
“My initial desire was for Rocky to write the foreword for the second edition of You Had Better Be White by Six A.M.: The African-Canadian Experience in the RCMP,” said Smith, who was an active honorary aide-de-camp to former Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis. “It might sound strange to some people who know the history of Rocky and the RCMP that he would agree to this request.
“I wasn’t sure if and when the second edition would be completed, but I knew I wanted Rocky’s contribution. Since the release of the first book (in 2010), he made reference to it as a validating answer when people talked about racism in policing. He told me he had about nine to 10 boxes of material in his basement from the RCMP spying on him.”
Smith was inspired to write the book after Canada’s first Black Mountie, Hartley Gosline, was racially embarrassed in front of fellow colleagues by a drill instructor more than four decades ago.
As the only Black officer, New Brunswick-born Gosline stood out on the parade square. During an early morning inspection, the drill corporal stopped in front of the new recruit and remarked: “Gosline, you stick out. You make our troop look bad and you better be White by 6 a.m.”
In 2012, Smith and Jones were among a group of community leaders and justice partners that took part in a three-day workshop conducted by CeaseFire Illinois (now Cure Prevention), which is dedicated to stopping the spread of violence in communities by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals and changing social norms.
Halifax was the first Canadian city to implement the program.
“Throughout the process, Rocky reasserted the need to have the program grassroots and connected to a community-based grassroots organization,” said Smith, who won a Harry Jerome Award two years ago. “He truly understood the philosophy of community empowerment and doing with, not doing for.”
Smith said his passion for writing and recording African-Canadian history comes from the paucity of historical material and the 12 years he spent working in the Halifax City Regional Library system. He was also instrumental in the development of a cutting edge action-filled 3D video game based on the life of Richard Preston, a freed slave who travelled to Nova Scotia in search of his mother and ended up laying lasting spiritual and community roots.
A former YMCA director and Black Hockey & Sports Hall of Fame president, Smith – as the RCMP diversity policing analyst for Nova Scotia – developed and delivers the African Nova Scotian cultural competency workshops for RCMP members and employees serving in the province.
The NSHRC theme this year was “Human Rights 365”.
“The idea is that we have to be conscious every moment of how we treat each other, and if we do that, then we are practising human rights,” said NSHRC chair, Eunice Harker. “Commissioners hear stories of hurtful acts that occur at workplaces, stores, schools and other places in the community. The hurts are created by discrimination, disrespect, misunderstanding or ignorance and can all be prevented.”