Shawntay Rose Dann is having candid conversations in front of a camera about everything from mental health to homelessness in the hopes of empowering other young Nova Scotians to do the same in their own lives.
The 24-year-old is the host of a new podcast and video series called Conversation for Change, created by the Halifax-based youth organization Leave Out Violence, or LOVE.
Since January, Dann's been speaking with people like MLA Lisa Roberts, poet and activist El Jones, and Marvin Okello with the Halifax Wanderers to ask them the questions young people want answers to.
"It's every conversation [about] being a person within the LGBTQ2+ community, having mental illness, being incarcerated, being homeless ... all of those things are being spoken about, but behind closed doors," Dann, who is also a youth leader with LOVE, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Friday.
She said it doesn't matter if the people sitting across from her are older or might be in a position of power. She wants to get to know them on a personal level, and also show other young people that they don't have to be afraid to ask tough questions.
"Hearing a voice that sounds like yours, hearing language that sounds like yours, but also seeing a face that is also younger, a person of colour, a woman speaking out and using their voice, it makes you have a different feel for yourself and a different level of confidence," said Dann.
In the first episode, Dann asked Roberts, who represents Halifax-Needham for the NDP, about what she's doing to address the province's housing crisis. Dann also opened up about her own experience trying to find affordable, stable housing during the pandemic.
"That had been something I was personally dealing with ... and I knew a lot of my friends who had been dealing with some housing struggles as well," Dann said.
"I was like, 'OK, I have to ask questions, especially around the tents that are in our city and how we can change what homelessness is looking like and the rate of homelessness.'"
Dann said she's also dealt with Canada's mental health system, both in Nova Scotia and elsewhere.
"Still dealing with it makes it a little bit easier ... on our audience because they can see that if someone else can do it, they can also do it and probably make it through," she said.
'It's worth it'
Dennis Allen, the executive director of LOVE Nova Scotia, said the idea for the series came about during a leadership meeting with some of the youth. They were talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and how to bring about real social change.
"To makes things better, it's always uncomfortable," he said. "But it's worth it, that challenge is worth it."
In a video introducing the project, Allen reflected on the difficult conversations he's had in his own life. He said some of them have been with white colleagues about what it's like to move through the world as a Black man.
"Youth want change in the world," Allen said. "They want to be with the partner of their choice. They want a level playing field. They want everybody to be treated similarly ... if we're going to go there, we have to talk about it."
He said Dann is the perfect host for the series because she's fearless and won't back away from asking challenging questions, regardless of who's sitting across from her.
Dann hopes to one day talk with Premier Iain Rankin and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask them what they plan to do to help youth in the country, and also to get to know them a little bit better.
"I look at people I talk to as a new family member," she said. "We call it now LOVE Nation because we want it to be bigger than just LOVE Nova Scotia."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.
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