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“I am because we are”:  African Nova Scotian Changemakers

african nova scotian changemakers program

Twenty-three young African Nova Scotians from in and around Digby make up the first cohort of the African Nova Scotian (ANS) Changemakers program, run by Inspiring Communities initiative Turning the Tide. The program provides the youth with Africentric leadership training and support in carrying out social change projects that they develop.

Ranging in age from 15 to 30, the youth are drawn from the historical ANS communities of Jordantown, Acaciaville, Conway, Weymouth Falls, Southville, Danvers, and Hassetts. Carmelita Johnson is the program designer and lead, and she is supported by a steering committee of local Black community members who are part of the Cultural Awareness Leadership and Mentoring (C.A.L.M.) Team. 

The ANS Changemakers Program was based on a model designed at Inspiring Communities’ Cape Breton initiative North Star Rising (then called Northside Rising). Participants are paid a stipend while receiving several weeks of training designed to prepare them to make social change and give back to the community. Each participant is paired with a Black mentor. The program culminates with a microgrant to work on a hands-on project addressing a social challenge.

The Africentric nature of the training was key for Carmelita, to build strength, knowledge, and pride in historical ANS communities. Governance training from Kate MacDonald based on the Nguzo Saba (7 Principles of Kwanzaa) sets the stage and makes clear that this program is centered on African heritage and African Nova Scotian experience. Centering an understanding of the participants’ culture and heritage presents an innovation-stoking alternative to existing colonial systems.  

Carmelita describes this program this way: “An opportunity to highlight African Nova Scotian youth in Digby County area in a positive light.  To showcase their individual leadership.  To feel a sense of pride in giving back to their communities while seeing themselves as future leaders and role models. To bring authentic voice to the needs of their community from a youth perspective.”

The mentors are connected to the African Nova Scotian communities in Digby County, but some are offering mentoring sessions as far away as Halifax by way of phone or facetime. In-person sessions are offered by those mentors who live locally. Each mentor commits to meet with participants to support and help them define the project they want to achieve, make connections to other Black entrepreneurs as well as envisioning future ways to use what they have learned.

Relationships are central in this work, and a big part of the program is participants learning to work with each other. As the participants begin to plan their projects, which range from bringing a basketball court to a community of youth that needs one, to a community garden project, to offering activities for seniors, some are recognizing alignment with each other.  In some cases, Carmelita expects that some youth will pool their energy and resources to achieve a larger project.

Inspiring Communities aims to create equitable thriving communities by building capacity in individuals Inspiring Communities aims to create equitable thriving communities by building capacity in individuals and groups while also influencing the conditions for change. Programs like the African Nova Scotian Changemakers provide individual capacity building, and provide a common experience and set of skills to a cohort of people from a rural area, connecting them as co-creators in change. The intention is that this will build on core strengths in the community and begin a ripple of change throughout the area. Most importantly, this ripple of change begins grounded in equity.

It only takes a few sparks to start a fire.   

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