Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Exploring social justice from the African heritage perspective: animated conversations highlight latest President’s Colloquium

February 28th, 2017
Pictured during the President's Colloquium are moderator Michael Fisher and panelist LaMeia Reddick

What can StFX do as a community to be more aware of and to better serve students of African descent?

That was one of the questions posed at StFX’s 5th President’s Colloquium, an evening focused on “Living the Legacy: Social Justice from the African Heritage Perspective.” The event held in ‘the Pit’ at Lane Hall on Feb. 28 was highlighted by animated, important and passionate discussion.

Speakers included Augy Jones, African Nova Scotia activist and StFX women’s basketball coach; LaMeia Reddick, founder of Kinnected Leadership and community engagement specialist; and Tendai Handahu, specialist in global Afrikan history, Afrikan revolutionary theory and Afrikan centred education.

The evening was facilitated by Michael Fisher, StFX Coordinator for African Descent Student Affairs.

L-r, StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald, moderator Michael Fisher, and panelists LaMeia Reddick, Tendai Handahu, and Augy Jones. 

“There’s a lot of history we need to know more about. These discussions allow us to do that,” StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald said as he set the framework for why students, staff and faculty and community members gathered for the discussion in the middle of a residence.

“The reason for that is that a residence…it’s part of the academic community. We need to remind ourselves of that every once in awhile and to hold discussions on important topics in the middle of a residence,” he said.

“The purpose of a university is to have uncomfortable conversations on things. If you can’t have them at a university where can you have them?”

Panel members fielded a variety of questions throughout the evening, from the facilitator and later audience members.

Discussion ranged from how to deal when people see you differently to how do we address the disconnect between the discourse we are having and the reality of life, to what supports can be provided for students when they come on campus.

Panelists spoke about the influences in their lives, including the legacy of their ancestors, as well as ways to help empower people. They spoke about real historical context that explains where the anger comes from, and how being “an other” in someone else’s culture is not easy.

“These conversations are meant for people to hear,” Mr. Jones said.

It’s heartwarming, he said, to have people listening, to bring a narrative or story for what it’s like to live as a Black person in Canada.

“When I think of social justice…it’s synonymous with fairness. I think social justice is civil rights,” he said.

People have differences, he said, be it race, gender or even physical ability, but underlying that is a lot of sameness. If you close off and think your culture is the only one you have to think about, it separates us, he said.

“When you get beyond that, there is a sameness. The reason we don’t get to the sameness is we don’t listen to people when they tell their narrative.”

We have to appreciate people’s differences, and be willing to be uncomfortable, to listen to people tell their authentic stories.

He adviced that activism start from an internal place, being able to get rid of those lines of otherness through love. “We have to get to the point of loving people who don’t look like us.”

Mr. Handahu brought a differing point of view, countering that love is not the answer because those things have not changed.

Mr. Fisher said having conversations like this is important as this is how we get to hear other people’s point of views. “You have to hear them as much as they have to hear you.”  

Panelists also spoke about the importance of education, the importance of engagement, of the responsibility of young people to show up to work towards change, and the importance of having pride in themselves and their heritage.

Ms. Reddick spoke about bringing that message of love, peace, compassion to her life and the workplace. “That’s what we have to do and how we will move forward.”

The panelists encouraged the audience to think about changes they can make.

Ms. Reddick also encouraged students to be creative, to try to make their courses and university experience richer. “Push your university to make changes you need, bring that voice to the university, there is power to shift and move it.”

Creating a space where students feel safe is important for students to live out their full potential. If they feel safe, it allows that creativity to come out, she said.

Self-confidence and self-love are important for academic success and beyond, Mr. Jones said.

“Success is not easy when you don’t feel good about yourself, when you feel like you don’t belong,” he said.

“If we want to make active change, we have to be engaged with Black youth in the Black community so they have a vision and a dream that they can make it. We need to welcome those communities and make this a live vision.”

 

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