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HALIFAX—“I’m a black man from a hostile environment,” says David Horne.
Horne is an international facilitator with the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC), and was in Halifax in the summer to address a town hall meeting at Africville Park. Along with the other organizers of the event, Horne was hoping to gauge the interest of the African Nova Scotian community in becoming part of the SRDC—and, indeed, becoming leading members of it. Around 150 people attended the town hall, trekking through a major downpour to discuss their collective future under the ceiling of an event-sized tent.
As Horne explained, the SRDC is a new initiative of the African Union, an organization that links together 55 of 56 countries on the African continent and is intended to create a common voice for African people in international affairs. Until recently, representation in the Union was limited to African people living on the continent. The estimated 350 million Africa-descended people living in the worldwide diaspora were excluded. But the African Union now wants to reach further. In addition to the five regions of the continent, the Union aims to create a “sixth region”: the worldwide diaspora.
For Horne, the creation of the sixth region is an acknowledgment of the affinities and commonalities that have endured among African people, wherever they happen to live in the present.
“You aren’t an African because you were born in Africa,” he tells the town hall audience. “You’re African because Africa was born in you.”
The sixth region initiative, in offering the diaspora an official role in the African Union, finally promises to create a venue large and inclusive enough for African people to come together and plan a better, collective future. It's a vision that Rocky Jones, a presenter at the town hall and longtime Halifax-based activist, summarized as “African people pulling together.”
At this point, the sixth region is only an invitation. It remains to be accepted,* Horne explains, and that means “organizing ourselves to present ourselves and represent ourselves.” Canada is one of many countries with a significant African diaspora, and the sixth region initiative calls for African Canadians to decide if they want to be included in the African Union and, if so, to elect a set of representatives. Each recognized community within Canada is to elect a “community council of elders,” while the overall African Canadian population is to elect a single representative to send to the African Union.
Horne hopes that the African Nova Scotian community will play a leading role amid the Canadian-based diaspora. The province is home to 47 black settlements with a history that predates the founding of Canada, and North Preston is recognized as the largest black community anywhere in the country.
“This is where the black population started [in Canada],” Horne explained. “We can’t go to Montreal, we can’t go to Toronto, we can’t go anyplace else before we go here. You are the beginning.”
Participants in town hall seemed impressed, and often inspired, by what they heard. Loud applause from the audience followed many of the presenters’ propositions, and there was a tangible sense of excitement about the overall vision. For African people to “pull together” would seem to create a new, stronger approach to the challenges that Africans face, from Harare to Halifax.
David Horne hails from Florida, but the “hostile environment” that he mentioned exists in Halifax as well. In the last decade alone, the HRM municipal government has been criticized for a number of decisions, including: sanctioning police-force racial profiling; closing public schools with a relatively high proportion of black students; situating a waste treatment facility in a poor and racialized neighbourhood; and undertaking repairs to Lake ste Major Road that greatly inconvenienced the residents of North Preston, while making a shortcut available to a neighbouring white community. And this string of issues stems from one institution: City Hall. Discrimination in the school system, the labour market, and in housing remain serious issues as well.
For Horne, however, African people are not only defined by the common problems they face. In the communities formed in hostile environments, there is a rich cultural and political tradition that needs to be recognized, honoured, and carried forward.
“We’re here to talk about moving forward,” he concluded. “You’ve been given a choice: you can get involved in the organizing of your part of the African diaspora. And in this world, you’re not always given a choice.”
The choice will need to be made by the community itself, and the town hall concluded with the formation of a committee that will seek to spread information about the sixth region and mobilize community members for a vote on the initiative, at a later date. In the meantime, the organizers of the event—including Horne, Jones, and Halifax resident Denise Allen—headed off to other African Nova Scotian communities to spread the world and offer new choices.
*At a meeting in North Preston on August 22, 2011, the African Nova Scotian community elected a Community Council of Elders and agreed to establish the first chapter of the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus in Canada.
Ted Rutland is a professor of urban studies at Concordia University in Montreal. He is working on a book on the history of urban planning in Halifax, and travelled to Halifax in July to attend the town hall meeting at Africville Park. This article originally appeared in the Halifax Media Co-op.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.