'Take a stand': U.S. protests spark dialogue about systemic racism in the Maritimes
HALIFAX -- While racial tensions continue to escalate in the United States following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, many Maritimers are weighing in and offering their opinions on an important issue on both sides of the border.
On Saturday in Halifax, a demonstration held after the death of Toronto woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, has also put a focus on systemic racism – an issue many know isn't contained to one country or region.
"Injustice has been happening for a very long time," says Nova Scotia-based filmmaker and public speaker Tyler Simmonds.
For Simmonds, witnessing the chaos erupting in the U.S. has been emotionally draining. Despite the overwhelming nature of the situation, he says it's a call for change that's long overdue.
"What are we going to do to help this, these issues?" says Simmonds. "They need to be acted on, and just sitting back and watching, for myself, is not an option."
And he's not alone. Anti-violence activist, Quentrel Provo, says he's frustrated as well.
"How long have we been fighting in Nova Scotia, as black African Nova Scotians, to get our rights and get our voices heard?" says Provo.
Following a report to Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission, police street checks in the province were deemed illegal in 2019. However, Provo says the fight for equality is far from over.
"Use your privilege to make change," says Provo, encouraging others to speak out against racism. "Don't sit and talk, and tell me, 'this is so sad.' We're done talking, cause lives are being lost."
Allies in the struggle
Those who consider themselves allies have also been speaking out. In a video posted to Instagram, Halifax Regional Police Const. Jordan Sheppard shared a personal message about what happened to Floyd.
"I am absolutely disgusted," says Sheppard in the video. "I am outraged; I am angered."
Long-time basketball coach Steve Konchalski also took to Twitter to make a rare post saying he is "extremely disturbed" by recent events.
At 75 years old, Konchalski remembers when Rosa Parks made headlines while he was growing up in New York City in the 1960s. Decades later, as a coach at St. Francis Xavier University, he recruited the team's black player.
"Step up and take a stand," says Konchalski, noting it's important to put a focus on treating people fairly. "Treat people as people – not by the colour of their skin or their religion."
Power to change
Meanwhile, Simmonds and Provo say creating a more equitable society is possible – but the change must begin with non-black people.
"We all can do better as humans," says Simmonds. "I think that people who aren't black can do that work."