More than 1,000 Canadians are converging in Halifax this weekend for the National Black Canadians Summit.
The three-day event features panels, performances and workshops focused on Black experiences and breaking down racial discrimination in the country.
Youth delegate Richard Popoola, who’s a year away from becoming a pharmacist, says he has an interest in the profession due to his passion for helping those from diverse backgrounds.
He said events like the National Black Canadians Summit offers a safe space to have conversations about how to better improve health care for people of African descent.
“It’s very important to have a gateway to know what is going on in these populations,” said Popoola. “And this is sometimes stuff that you can’t find in schools, or universities, so it’s very important that conferences like this happen.”
The summit is taking place at the Halifax Convention Centre, with a goal of sparking conversations about breaking down barriers faced by Black Canadians, while also discussing the impact of racism on mental health and living conditions.
For Deparse Cottrell with the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, it’s all about how Black Canadians can help push each other forward.
“What we’ve seen is a lot of people flying out, coming by sea and by air to connect as a Black diaspora and give thanks, as well as praise each other, for the proud work we do in Black excellence in this country,” he said.
Focus on justice system
One of the issues spotlighted Saturday was the justice system. Halifax police chief Dan Kinsella, along with Preston MLA Angela Simmonds were on-hand as panelists.
Global News was not permitted to attend the panel, with organizers saying they wanted to create a safe space for open dialogue. In an interview afterward, Simmonds said it was an “honest conversation” about how people are impacted by the justice system.
“The conversation was, of course, justice, and how do we reinvent justice, and using innovation, how do we make things better? And how do we make sure that the systems we’re creating are not leaving people out?” she said.
“To be honest there was a lot of questions that triggered, I’m sure, some sort of trauma for folks. And I think it was a space that we made sure people were able to ask questions.”
Simmonds said the panel ensured people’s concerns felt heard.
“We’re not going anywhere, and people are going to continue to ask questions, and hold people in positions of power and privilege to account,” she said.
But for some in attendance, like Toronto-based journalist and author Desmond Cole, the police chief’s attendance was counterproductive and left him “puzzled.”
“I think we would have had a much better conversation without him, because we’re talking about ways that our Black communities can be safer,” he said.
“And all that the police chief had to say was, basically, ‘We listen, we hear your pain, and in non-specific ways we’re going to try and do better.’
“I think we’ve been hearing that for hundreds of years, as Black people, and I think we deserve a little bit better than that.”
Global News requested an interview with Chief Kinsella, but he declined.
Cole said given the long history of Black people being racially profiled by the police and overrepresented in the justice system, working with the police isn’t necessarily the answer.
“For me, what we need to do is abolish the police. We need to take their funding away and give it to the people in our community who they spend all their time going after,” he said.
“The police keep harming the most vulnerable members of our community, and then apologizing, and harming, and apologizing. So many of us are tired about the cycle of violence and we want to stop the cycle of violence by defunding and abolishing the police, and using their resources to help the people that they’ve been hurting.”
The summit will conclude Sunday, with a church service before its closing ceremony.
Cottrell, with the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, said he wants to see the summit continue to grow in the future.
“This makes me fully proud to be a part of something that’s bigger than myself. It also gives me motivation and inspiration to continue what I do in the community,” he said.
— With files from Alex Cooke