Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Mixed feelings as COVID clip snowbirds wings
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19: October 9, 2020
‘I’m not going to be stopped’
A Black teenager is increasing public awareness about racial injustice with her newly formed Racial Justice Action Committee in Truro, N.S.
Elisabet Astatkie, 18, of Valley, N.S. aims to inform about BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) experiences in Nova Scotia and to be a place of support for them.
“I decided to create this committee because I saw a lack of education about topics due to racism and I believe now, more than ever, it's important to educate and support BIPOC people in different positions,” she said.
After the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed while jogging in Georgia, Astatkie was upset and felt the urge to do something. She started researching Canadian racial history and learned about Africville and the Shelburne Race Riots of 1784 — history she never learned growing up in school.
When she became a program assistant with ElevateHER Mental Health Support Services Canada in June, she used the opportunity to create the Racial Action Justice Committee as a project under the ElevateHER umbrella. With the help of project coordinator Abby MacLeod, Ashley Idoko and her sister Sarah Astatkie, they gathered 20 social justice-minded teenagers to take part.
Half of the committee are BIPOC and have a larger leading role.
“While I appreciate the support of allies, I want the people who make the big shots to be (BIPOC) because everything that happens directly affects them,” she said.
“We are still experiencing microaggressions, acts of racism, whether they're blunt or not. We still see it all. I think that's really important because we are able to look at things from a different perspective.”
Although she knows others have faced more severe acts of racism, she said that recent awareness on social media helped her recognize moments she has faced in her life as a Black person and the daughter of immigrants, such her race being downgraded or assumptions that she is foreign.
“Microaggressions are so common, and people don't even realize that they're doing it when they do it,” she said.
In July, the committee penned a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil proposing a “Race Relations in Nova Scotia” course for high schoolers examining the history of racial injustice in the province. Astatkie said that racism is not just in the past; it is happening today and knowing history can help inform the present.
They create informative posts for their main platform on Instagram, which includes a way for BIPOC experiences to be shared anonymously. Another ongoing initiative is to display posters around the community that include messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” and “say their names,” inspired by ongoing events and meeting discussions. Other timely messages celebrate holidays such as International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples and Emancipation Day (when slavery was abolished in the British Empire) and moments such as the Oka Crisis.
Constantly, their signs have been graffitied or torn down, especially on Inglis Street in Truro. Some of their posters at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Shelburne, N.S., were also the target of graffiti.
But when the posters are defaced, the committee comes back to replace them.
“People are looking at (the posters), experiencing some type of emotion and then acting on it,” she said. “Them being taken down drives me to want to put more up, just to spite them, so they can see that I’m not going to be stopped.”
Word is getting around about the committee. Astatkie presented the concept and received support from the Town of Truro Diversity Advisory Committee and the Black-led Community Enhancement Association.
She received a #RisingYouth grant from TakingItGlobal totalling $1,500. Part of it went toward purchasing 20 copies of The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh for community members. Future possible events might include a Kwanzaa celebration and a community event with BIPOC vendors. Astatkie is also interested in coordinating a workshop on properly taking care of Afro-textured hair — something that she is learning more about now herself.
Astatkie recently started her engineering degree at Dalhousie University and continues to work at ElevateHER. Though things are busy, she is determined to keep pushing for racial justice with the committee.
“I definitely want to put in as much time as I can to this because this is really important to me,” she said.
Visit https://www.instagram.com/racialjusticecommittee/ for more information.