Preston Township hosting event to honour members of the community lost to COVID-19

·5 min read
North Preston is the largest community of the original Preston Township settlement. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC - image credit)
North Preston is the largest community of the original Preston Township settlement. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC - image credit)

Community members throughout Preston Township, N.S., will gather Saturday to commemorate those lost during the pandemic.

Organizer Denise Allen says Black communities in Nova Scotia need to start supporting each other again during grief and she hopes this event will reignite the desire to mourn together.

Allen is a child of Africville and a current Preston Township community member. She spoke to CBC reporter Feleshia Chandler about the event and the importance of communal mourning. She said the event will take place this Saturday and that although the event is predominantly for the Black community there, everyone is welcome to come and grieve.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What made you decide to put on this event?

We're having the day of mourning to remember our respective communities and how our respective communities would gather together as a community to mourn with the grieving families. COVID restrictions prevented that practice of mourning to take place because we couldn't gather in numbers beyond the immediate family.

Some families were left in the parking lot of hospitals, and their loved ones died in the hospital, in a room, alone. Death is traumatic enough, but to have a loved one not be with their family when they're dying and then the surviving family has to live with that? That's traumatic. They didn't have the support of their community surrounding them, as has been the way we practise mourning and grieving for the past 400 or 500 years.

What should people attending expect?

There will be grief counsellors there if you need them. We're going to have several speakers and music. Food will be provided.

We have three confirmed speakers at the moment. One is minister Beverly States. The second is our associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Dwayne Provo, and the final speaker is Victor Clayton, and he is the deacon for St. Thomas Baptist Church.

The grief counsellors will reveal what are the symptoms for someone who is grieving and needs help. If you see those symptoms in someone, organize a group to go there and be with them, sit with them, talk to them, prepare dinner for them; just show them some kind of caring, consideration and compassion.

How is the community feeling these days and dealing with the losses they've suffered?

When you don't have the support that you're used to, if that's taken away from you and you're left to struggle with death on your own, that's doubly traumatic.

They are saying, "Oh, no, no, I'm dealing with it, I'm dealing with it," but they're not doing anything. They're just acting as if everything is the way it has always been and that's not the case. To me, the way that they're behaving, I get a sense of numbness to what's happening. I mean, we have people who died through murders.

The community had to bury an innocent child during COVID and that young mother had to bury her son, without the support of her family and community surrounding her. That in and of itself, is traumatic. Sometimes if young people don't see the practices that their ancestors have been doing … they're not going to practise it.

North Preston's Future
North Preston's Future

Why is the practice of community mourning important?

We have to re-establish that practice for our future, for our children's children's children. We can't let that practice die out. COVID can't kill that. We can't let it happen. The Preston Township is a remote area and it's vast, yet everybody did that when somebody passed away; now, no, not so much.

Even the church is not as full as it used to be. We're committed to being with the grieving family at the time of death, but I'm not seeing that practice anymore.

It makes a difference because they don't just grieve the day of the funeral. Take a man who's used to his wife preparing his meals every single day for the last 50 years, you think he knows how to cook for himself? We need to go and check on people like this.

How has this loss of communal grieving affected the community?

The violence that I'm seeing, that, too, is unprecedented, and I feel that that has something to do with the way we have been accustomed to mourning. Once that has been removed, people are left to look to other sources as their influence. Unfortunately, there are young people among us that don't know their heritage and don't know their proud traditions and therefore they're out here doing things that were never part of our behaviour, historically.

So once they see how we love one another, maybe then it'll make their conscience wake up and say, "This is not the way that I should behave toward anyone, let alone someone from my community."

What do you hope people feel or take away after the event?

I'm hoping that they commit to the practice. If you know that there's someone in your community that is hurting for whatever reason, or that could use some support, you have to show love, you can't just talk about it.

We want them to reconnect. It was like second nature before, but now it seems as if they have not reconnected with a past tradition.

We're allowed to reconvene now the restrictions have been removed, but people have died since those restrictions have been removed and I don't see us practicing that tradition anymore.

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.

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