Amid mounting stories of sexism on Parliament Hill and a recent report on anti-black racism in Canada, 14 young women from Nova Scotia’s East Preston area are travelling to Ottawa on Monday to “claim their space” in the capital.
Canada’s first African Nova Scotian female senator, Wanda Thomas Bernard, will be hosting the group on its week-long trip.
“We’re saying, ‘We’re here, we’re going to be counted, we are going to be included,'” Bernard said.
The girls’ trip is an act of “resistance” and “empowerment,” she said, because of their experiences with racism and marginalization.
In that context, Bernard says, the trip sends a “message to the entire country that we will not be silenced.”
“The fact that we still have to do that in 2017 is very sad — it makes me angry [and] frustrated,” she said. “But the fact that we can do it gives me such hope.”
The 14 girls are part of the empowerment academy run by the East Preston United Baptist Church. The region has the highest percentage of black Canadians in the country, according to a recent United Nations report.
For many of the participants, the trip will be their first glimpse of Parliament Hill — and for some, like Tanamya Brooks, it will also be their first time on a plane.
Brooks, 13, said she dreams of becoming a lawyer or trial consultant, and hopes the trip to Ottawa will be part of the journey towards reaching that goal.
“I think it’s going to be a really special thing — just being able to go up there and prove that we are all our own people,” Brooks said.
The group will speak to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights and present their research projects that look at the history and people of East Preston.
They will also meet the speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons, attend the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Parliament of Canada, and tour the city’s museums and art galleries.
Brooks and fellow 13-year-old Beyonca Payne are both planning to share stories about their great-grandmothers. Payne said her great-grandmother, Reverend Dr. Joyce Ross, had to stare down “racist obstacles” throughout her life.
She said she hopes the parliamentarians she speaks with in Ottawa will be able to see the East Preston through the teens’ eyes.
“I want them to see that we are coming to show them how we are and to represent East Preston in a very positive way,” she said.
Payne, who has four younger siblings who look up to her, said she hopes they will see her bravery as she makes the trip to Parliament Hill.
Payne admits she’s a bit nervous, but excited to make her mark during the trip to Ottawa.
“Claim your space means that I am a female and I should be where I am.”