Creating change for African Nova Scotians

February 26, 2021 | RBC Wealth Management


Difference-makers like Sylvia Parris-Drummond are driving for change—even in times of upheaval and tragedy. ”We're in a pandemic of COVID and a pandemic of racism,” she says.


As CEO of the Africentric institute Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute (DBDLI) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Parris-Drummond helps create educational change and opportunities for learners and communities of African ancestry to empower them to reach their full potential. Its multiple areas of focus–from research to community engagement, student outreach to curriculum development–help build relationships, strengthen community understanding and give African Nova Scotians a voice.

Named a finalist at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, Parris-Drummond joined DBDLI as CEO in 2015. Trained as a teacher, she conducted various educational research projects throughout her studies and had the chance to take part in policy and curriculum training. Born and raised in Mulgrave, she originally came to Halifax to apply her training in the Nova Scotia Department of Education. The CEO position, when presented to her, felt like the perfect fit, given her deep passion for the community.

Plus, she wants to lead meaningful change. Speaking about anti-Black racism, she says “The reason we find ourselves in the same cycles is that systems haven't achieved the policy integration they need to. I took this role to try to help our community see what it looks like when we're walking and doing it in an Africentric way. To demonstrate how we engage and how we lead. The challenges and the opportunities energize me.”

Creating systemic change

Parris-Drummond admits there are many challenges to achieving DBDLI's vision and mission. One of the biggest is to get people at the most senior and appropriate tables to listen and learn.

But she sees this as an opportunity. “I know we can make structures better for our community. And I know that if the systems get it right for us, things'll be better for everybody. Once we have fair, easily accessible history, heritage and cultural awareness of African Nova Scotians, we will know the full history of Nova Scotia. And that will benefit all sectors.” Shining a light on the true Black history brings a diversity of thought and broader inclusivity to communities where we live and the places where we work.

And then there's the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DBDLI's new facility is just two years old and was designed as an event space, where the community could gather, host consultations and bring government and non-government perspectives under one roof. While the physical gatherings haven't been able to take place, DBDLI created new and modified resources in digital format. They moved to hosting presentations and webinars virtually. This brought about opportunities for new collaboration. Plus, as Parris-Drummond puts it, COVID-19 has introduced new approaches to learning. “We've learned how to listen in a different way,” she says.

What does success look like?

Social change is a gradual process. Success lies in the progressive journey forward. And for her part, Parris-Drummond is motivated by the achievements her team and community are realizing along the way. “When people reach out to us for more collaboration, and to bring perspective from the communities, that's a success,” she says. It's also a solid step forward when people start to understand the nuances of diversity. “There is diversity within our diversity,” she says. “So from a personal vantage point I identify as a Black African Nova Scotian woman–those are not separable.”

As part of the ongoing research work of the institute, they've been invited to national tables to discuss and share their approach to Africentric research and how they enrich findings and recommendations. All the while, they hold true to community voice engagement from youth, young adults and the community as a whole. “We are proud that our work has brought policy changes in the public-school system and post-secondary institutions. What happens well for African Nova Scotians and Black Canadian benefits all.” says Parris-Drummond.

DBDLI research has also reached beyond provincial borders, with projects currently underway across Canada and around the world, including with the Canadian Institute for People of African Descent (CIPAD) and Promising School Practices (Ghana, Ontario and Nova Scotia)

And, an unexpected result of being a finalist in the RBC Canadian Entrepreneur Awards has been increased support by individuals and organizations to offer donations. Utilizing various media platforms has provided a way to share their good work and engage with the broader Nova Scotian community. “People are seeing the work we're doing and the impact we're having,” says Parris-Drummond.

While she draws energy from the award, what really excites her is the progress she and her team are making. “We're always moving, doing better, getting stronger,” she says. “And by using the strength we have, and building relationships with the community, we can support each other and create change.”

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