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Vanessa Fells, Director of ANSDPAD with a message for the International Decade for People of African Descent

Lift every voice

The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) presents a unique opportunity for people of African descent world-wide to work collaboratively with community, municipalities, provinces, states, and nations to address anti-Black racism and make positive change that will benefit people of African descent for generations.

However, addressing racism in Canada has its challenges because on a world stage Canada is seen as a beacon of hospitality, kindness, freedom, multiculturalism and equality. Issues such as systemic anti-Black racism, discrimination and, hate crimes are thought to be American problems. However, this is far from the reality that I and many African Canadians experienced growing up in Nova Scotia, the province with the oldest presence of people of African descent in Canada. Canada, like all countries, have an unaddressed issue of racism. My struggle with finding a positive Black identity while growing up is what lead me to work collaboratively to address racism and the human rights of people of African descent, my community, my family.

In 2015, I attended the United Nations Fellowship programme for people of African descent in Geneva, Switzerland. When I first arrived I knew very little about the International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD). The Fellowship programme was created in 2011 and since 2015, it has been an integral part of the Programme of activities of the international decade.

The Fellowship Programme is a yearly intensive human rights training designed for people of African descent from the diaspora, who are engaged in promoting the rights of people of African descent. The programme educated me about issues of racism that negatively affect our community from an international perspective; it also taught me about how we as community need to work collectively to engage our home countries and to push for change in communities and our governments (federal, provincial and municipal).

So therefore, what can we do? How can we as African Canadians embrace the International decade and push for change using the decade’s pillars of recognition, justice and development?

At a federal level our community should push our Canadian government to:

·   Officially recognize People of African Descent as a distinct people who have helped to shape our country;

·   Seek a public apology for Canada’s role in the enslavement of African people and its legacy on our descendant;

·   Recognize August 1 as Emancipation Day annually;

·   Look at Cabinet Ministers. Do they represent and reflect all Canadians including African Canadians; 

·   Review laws and policy to ensure equity;

·   Keep government accountable to ensure that developmental policies and programs are being easily accessed and utilized by our communities.

At a provincial level we should collaboratively work with our governments across sectors (health, education, justice, etc.) and create collaborative provincial actions plans with community that will:

•        Address systemic anti-Black racism and its intersectionality across all departments;

•        Remove obstacles that prevent equality (hire practices of people of African descent (PAD) in high-level government positions who can inform policy);

•        Review legislation and policies across all sections;

•        Anti-discrimination legislation (laws against hate speech and actions);

•        Promote greater knowledge and education;

•        Have an annual accountability review presented to community for feedback;

•        Take active measures against poverty (statistics, policies, actions);

•        Take an active role in understanding and educating on the social determinants of health;

•        Review and make changes to the provincial Employee’s Assistant Program to adequately address the needs of Black Employees;

•        Keep government accountable to ensure that developmental policies and programs are assisting our communities.

Finally, municipalities can also embrace the UN decade and actively engage with their Black communities to collaboratively work to address racism by creating municipal action plans that:

•        Designate a piece of their budget for community based projects and programs specific to the Black communities needs (be intentional – affordable housing, store space and ownership programs);

•        Work with community to make changes in community to celebrate diversity. How well does your community reflect the diversity of those who live there? (Black Lives Matter signage, recognition of Black community hero’s, flag, benches etc.);

•        Review municipal policies (employee assistance program, hiring practices);

•         Keep government accountable to ensure that developmental policies and programs are being assisting our communities.

The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent aims to provide PAD around the world a stage to use their voice in a unique way. It allows us to speak they truth about racism in Canada in a new way. It is my hope that our communities and government work collaboratively over the next four years and beyond to address systemic anti-Black racism, and build strength and health across all African Canadians communities that will create spaces for us to thrive for many generations to come.