HALIFAX -- As anti-racism protests continue to gain momentum across North America, a rally was held on Sunday in Halifax's historic community of Africville to shine a light on the impact of peaceful protest. With hundreds of protesters gathered, the demonstration highlighted the power of prayer to bring people together and learn from lessons of the past – lessons especially significant to the community.

Lived experience

For residents who actually lived in the community, the event was of great importance.

Irvine Carvery grew up in the community of Africville, which was bulldozed when he was 13 years old.

"Africville is the community that was probably the most negatively impacted by racism, than any other community in Canada,” says Carvery. “Because our community was destroyed, and we were a community that had been here on these shores for generations."

Carvery says, while he has plenty of first-hand knowledge of the community, many people don't know anything about it, or acknowledge the struggles faced by the community.

"Our education system does not do a good job in terms of educating people about people of African descent in this province," says Carvery. “All they have to do is look at the history of Africville, the treatment of the people of Africville by the city, the province and this country, to get an understanding that racism is here in Canada. It's been a part of our history, and for them to say otherwise is just out of pure ignorance.”

History of protest

Protest organizer Rev. Lennett Anderson's great-great-great-grandfather was one of Africville's first settlers.

"Growing up, I heard my grandmother tell the stories,” says Anderson. “I heard about bulldozing the church, about garbage trucks being brought in to remove furniture.”

With protests taking place across North America, Anderson felt Africville's history made it an excellent choice to hold a rally of its own.

"Africville, for me, stands as the monument of spirituality and protest,” says Anderson. “It is actually where the longest protest in Canadian history hails from – with Mr. Eddie Carvery. So, we have a long history of advocacy there."

A 'prayerful protest'

Organizers note people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds were invited to come together and to pray together.

"We can't correct the past, in terms of going back and undoing it,” says protest organizer Kesa Munroe-Anderson. “But we can now, in this present state. We have the opportunity to change the future."

Rising up

Munroe-Anderson says the refusal to accept racial discrimination is growing.

"I compare it to a volcano,” says Munroe-Anderson. “There's been a lot of activity and lava bubbling up-up-up, and this is the eruption of hundreds of years of anti-black racism."

Carvery says protests across the globe are promising.

"What we're hearing from around the world, which is amazing, is that there will be no more Africvilles,” says Carvery. “It's time for society as a whole to get a grip on these issues that we're facing, this systemic racism."

Cautious protest

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distancing was practised at the protest. Volunteer ushers helped to keep space between groups, attendees were encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets, and everyone participating was strongly encouraged to wear a mask.

Hope for the future

Despite protests and growing worldwide consciousness concerning racism and anti-blackness, Anderson says she hopes the movement moves beyond demonstrations.

“There is a new breath, a new wind, a unity in this movement,” says Anderson. “I don't want it to stop at protests if it does not affect policy – we need to be at the table and make changes at the table."

Meanwhile, Carvery, one of Africville’s last residents, says he’s hopeful for a future in which equality is a reality.

“In the late 1960s, we marched here in Halifax against racism,” says Carvery. “When I look at the marches now, and I see all the white people who are out, who understand – that gives me hope for the future. I think as a people, we've finally come to the awareness that we are all one and the same."