Panel discussion celebrates Black women in Nova Scotia electoral politics

Six Black women were panelists at an event planned for International Women's Day titled Black Women in Electoral Politics. From left: Sen. Wanda Bernard Thomas, Nova Scotia Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs Twila Grosse, former NDP MLA Yvonne Atwell, NDP MLA Suzy Hansen, former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds and Halifax Coun. Iona Stoddard. (Feleshia Chandler/CBC - image credit)

Six former and current Black Nova Scotia politicians spoke candidly about their experiences in the role as women during a panel discussion Wednesday night in Cherry Brook, N.S.

The Black Women in Electoral Politics panel was held in collaboration with Mount Saint Vincent University at the Black Cultural Centre. They spoke about how they got into politics, what it was like and how other people — especially Black women — could find support if they wanted to enter political careers.

"My lived experience really shaped who I am," said Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard, "shaped the vision and the perspective that I bring to this work, so I work with colleagues on social justice issues are really grounded in my lived experiences, but also what I've witnessed around me.

"And every single day, I'm reminded of the significance of the work. Breaking down barriers is basically what I do."

In addition to Bernard, Nova Scotia's minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Twila Grosse, former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds, former NDP MLA Yvonne Atwell, NDP MLA Suzy Hansen and Halifax Coun. Iona Stoddard were on the panel.

Yvonne Atwell, the first Black woman elected to the Nova Scotia Legislature, spoke about what it was like being in politics for the first time. She was an MLA with the NDP in 1998.

'I always thought I can do this'

"When you think about being inside of all of that for the first time, I didn't have a history like that. I mean, I dropped out of school, went to Toronto and then had to go back," Atwell told the panel.

"But I always thought that I can do this because I could never figure out why not. I never thought about my colour in that way, I never thought about coming from East Preston in that way," Atwell told the panel.

Hansen told CBC News that she, as a Black woman, has faced discrimination. But she said it doesn't deter her — nor should it stop others — from entering politics.

NDP MLA Suzy Hansen (left) sat next to former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds (right) at the panel.
NDP MLA Suzy Hansen (left) sat next to former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds (right) at the panel.

NDP MLA Suzy Hansen, left, and former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds at the panel. (Feleshia Chandler/CBC)

"Being in this role as a woman, but as well being a Black woman, there's not very many of me that are there that I can lean on, but as well, just experiencing some discrimination based on where I come from, where I live and my own personal experiences that aren't everybody's lived experience," Hansen, who is from north-end Halifax and represents Halifax Needham.

"I think that's a valuable asset for me when I'm in there, when I'm in the legislature sitting in my seat is to show that, to prove that anyone can be in these seats, anyone can stand here and do this work and we should.... We all have something to bring to the table and we need to respect those pieces of who we are."

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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. You can read more stories here.