Editors' Note: Accomplished spoken-word artist El Jones was among the many who rallied at St. Pat's-Alexandra yesterday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Jones was kind enough to send a copy of the piece she prepared and read at the rally to the HMC.
We call ourselves Canada’s Ocean Playground
But they will tear down the playground if you don’t live downtown
If you are ground down in the North End where you will be considered to be down and out
And so the plans our communities write down are thrown out
In this city we value children less than condos
Where mondo developers and head honchos
Get the ears of our government
While the people are drowned out
We talk about development when what we mean
Is whatever gets us the quickest green in the short term
Because true development is found inside schools and health clinics Where minds and bodies are strengthened
And lives are lengthened in places where we meet and learn and grow
Where we build with family and friendships and not bricks
And relationship are cemented between communities as diverse as rainbows
Here the germ of unity is planted like in our gardens
Where our seeds are tended and our roots extend through community centers
Named for our ancestors. Places where we mentor our young
On stories of Africville and the spirit that can’t be killed
As we see in them the dreams of slaves fulfilled
And we educate and labour to build the skills of our youth
Coming together over the grills of barbeques and on basketball courts As we lay the firm foundations that can’t be bought
For generations of children to rise up in this place we call the square.
But we can’t get there when we send our kids the message
That their needs are too expensive when compared to the profits that can be collected from rents
And so potential goes unspent
And the knowledge that descends from grandparents and parents is silenced
When we treat our communities as expendable.
We need excellence but all we get are broken pledges
Wedged into ever narrowing blocks
Between the soup kitchens and meth clinics and needle exchanges
That suburban communities campaign against having next door to them on the grounds that it’s too dangerous for their children
While our kids are pushed to the edges.
Walking to kindergarten in the cold
Through miles of traffic on main roads
Because the schools in our neighbourhoods are closed when it is diagnosed
As costing too much to keep them open after years of reducing enrollment
Created by threatening to close the schools in the first place.
And parents struggle to keep them safe
But our proposals to elevate ourselves are ignored and then shelved
And we are told that we must be pretending or misled
When we say, yes, this has to do with poverty and race.
As if we can’t notice the direction the city is going
And it’s not our section of the map they’re growing.
We live in these streets neglected treated like uncollected garbage
Our voices rejected our children made targets
With low expectations regarded as hopeless
Our schools and stores and homes torn down to leave us defenseless
Replaced by vacant lots and fences
Until one day we’re selected
And our neighbourhoods once thought worthless eyesores and slums Become valuable real estate and then no-one protects us.
We have been pushed out, dumped, relocated, cleared, gentrified, displaced, transferred, bulldozed, renewed and erased
Into projects, housing, ghettoes, low income neighbourhoods, shelters, blocks, strips, and the ave
More times than we can recollect and we are still here keeping faith and paying taxes.
And all we are asking is some space in our own neighbourhoods
For our children to be raised in.
Because development is not measured in high rises or ledgers
It is found in society when the poorest are treasured
And where the elected find courage to fight to defend them
And where, when we build, we are building together.