Going Together: Conversations on the Way Forward – Discussion Highlights
On June 10, the Restorative Inquiry hosted a one-day conference that brought together more than 75 people including African Nova Scotian youth, service providers and members of community organizations. The day’s conversations focused on four key topics: Education and Employment, Justice and Community Violence, Mental Health and Well Being, and Support for African Nova Scotian Families. Here are some themes that arose from each discussion.
EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT
African Nova Scotian youth talked about how rarely they learn about themselves in class or encounter teachers who look like them. They said they’re sometimes steered away from pursuing academic or professional careers and pushed toward the trades. One young man said he wanted to be a veterinarian but teachers told him to pursue something “more practical,” like carpentry. Black students are more likely to be on IPPs, and they have a hard time accessing resources to help with their education or to help them as they look for employment.
- African Nova Scotian culture must be better reflected in school curriculum and staff.
- Youth need more support in accessing resources and encouragement to pursue their passions.
- Youth must be engaged rather than pushed through the system or relegated to the sidelines.
- A Youth Employment Strategy is needed to create opportunities and address the loss of resources such as Black Employment Centres.
Quote: “If our identity isn’t represented or reflected in the classroom, why go back to the classroom?”
JUSTICE AND COMMUNITY VIOLENCE
Participants said many people still fear speaking up when violence happens in a community—not just shootings, but other forms of violence including domestic violence. Young people said they don’t trust police and the justice system. Many had stories of being followed by police. Black youth are also referred to Restorative programs less frequently than other youth. Those who have gone through Restorative programs felt like they had little relationship with their caseworkers, who don’t carry cellphones and are difficult to reach outside typical office hours, when some youth are in school and unable to make contact. Participants stressed the need for more interventions to help youth and families before violence becomes an issue.
- Youth, families and communities need preventative programs.
- Black communities need better relationships with the justice system, including law enforcement and programs like Restorative Justice.
- Communities must address the silence and stigma of speaking up about violence.
Quote: “Sometimes we put programs in place, but we don’t deal with the family. When the young person leaves the program, they go back to the unhealthy family environment… we can do more damage by doing that. How do we help families?”
MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
People noted that living in an environment of systemic racism means most African Nova Scotians have experienced some form of trauma, yet mental health is still not openly discussed in most African Nova Scotian communities. Those who do seek help sometimes face barriers such as transportation issues and long referral times. Some people said they’ve had negative experiences with health-care providers who treated them differently because of racial and cultural dynamics.
- African Nova Scotians face recurring trauma.
- Silence and stigma persist around mental illness.
- African Nova Scotians need better access to culturally competent care.
Quote: “We need to talk to young Black men and boys who don’t feel like they have a safe space to talk about and process these things. At school they’re labelled as aggressive and given a diagnosis… we don’t want more labels than we already have, so we suffer in silence.”
SUPPORTS FOR AFRICAN NOVA SCOTIAN FAMILIES
As in the Education and Health conversations, participants said the social agencies that are supposed to support families—such as the Department of Community Services—often show a lack of cultural understanding. People again highlighted the need for more proactive programming and support to help families before a crisis emerges. Many programs and services operate in silos: “That’s not our mandate” is a common refrain. People also highlighted the need for communities to mentor and pass on wisdom and shared history to youth.
- Agencies and service providers must be better equipped to work with communities they serve.
- There’s a need to tap into the strength of intergenerational family and community support.
- Communities need more proactive, preventative programs.
Quote: “Some programs don’t help unless you’re involved with a crime. I should be able to find help without putting my life on the line.”
The Restorative Inquiry will host further discussions toward concrete action on these themes at a follow-up community event called Going Together II: Continuing the Journey Forward being held Oct. 14 at the North Preston Community Centre. This event will focus on four areas:
-Looking back to move forward: knowing our journey
-Building strong communities through mentorship, leadership and support
-Addressing the impact of violence and silence in our communities
-Our mental health matters
As community-based recommendations and solutions emerge from the discussions, the RI will move them forward to its Reflection and Action Task Group, which is mandated to begin making changes in real time. Some work in these areas is already underway: for example, the RI is working with health-care providers to increase cultural understanding among workers and staff. The RI will continue to seek community input and report back to community as the work progresses.