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"Now is the Time"

Preston Community Leadership Project set to launch

by Rebecca Rose

“We want to restore our community to what we know that it can be and what it felt like for us.” - LaMeia Reddick [Photo: Mo Handahu]
“We want to restore our community to what we know that it can be and what it felt like for us.” - LaMeia Reddick [Photo: Mo Handahu]

“NOW IS THE TIME,” reads the poster for the soon to be launched Preston Community Leadership Project. The poster, designed by East Preston raised Donica Willis, encapsulates organizer LaMeia Reddick’s feelings about making change in her home community.

“Generationally, it’s almost like one of those now or never situations,” says 25-year-old Reddick, citing Preston’s aging population, and the all-too-familiar depopulation.

Reddick, who is working on the project along-side New Leaf Social Innovation and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, says Preston residents are ready to lead but community-organizers-to-be need support. So she and her fellow organizers are “just basically bringing all we’ve got.”

The Preston Community Leadership Project will hold an information session tonight from 6:30-9:30PM at the North Preston Community Centre, 44 Simmonds Road. The project will consist of three separate daylong workshops - held Saturday February 13, March 5 and March 26 – that will focus on skill building and information gathering. In the end the project will produce a document outlining the community’s priorities, a template for change of sorts.

According to Tracey Thomas, Manager of Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, it was the 2012 decision in the case of the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters “that highlighted issues of systemic discrimination and paved the road for this form of co-led engagement and education.”

For the Commission, and for Reddick, this program is about being proactive. “Usually when there is a crisis or issue in the community, community members tend to call a meeting,” said Reddick. “It’s been so crisis focused and it’s been so retroactive, something happens and people meet so I think that this is shifting that a little bit.”

Most of what non-Preston residents hear about the area, what makes up the vast majority of mainstream media coverage, are the crisis. “I think the community is at a place that they know that any story about Preston is going to be a negative one. I think we’ve just accepted that and built up this resilience,” says Reddick. “When we do have a good news story we know that that [it] won’t be on the front page.”

It’s the kitchen table conversations with her grandmother about negative media coverage that motivates Reddick to do this work. Her grandmother, she says, works at the local day care and “raised” a lot of North Preston’s youth. “I can’t stop thinking about my grandmother’s tears and how I don’t want her to be sad anymore really,” she says.

Unemployment, the high number of youth on IPPs (individual program plans), concerns regarding the future of North Preston’s elementary school, access to dependable public transit and better supports when it comes to health, mental health and trauma, are the real issues according to Reddick. And there are strengths and opportunities too: a rich history, a fierce pride, a population skilled in the trades, a community bursting with musical talent and a generation of young professionals looking to give back to the “village” that raised them.

“The young people now are in restorative mode,” says Reddick. “We want to restore our community to what we know that it can be and what it felt like for us.”

Thomas says the Human Rights Commission hopes that this model of “connecting with community members, supporting capacity building and strengthening their relationships” on the ground will help them engage communities throughout Nova Scotia in similar conversations about systemic discrimination.  

Reddick says that she’s been getting phone calls from excited community members since she put the poster on Facebook. And, she adds, her grandmother will be there. 

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