Celebrating African Nova Scotian Culture: Stories of Joy, Resilience, and Community Engagement

As we welcome African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia and celebrate 40 years of honouring this occasion at Halifax Public Libraries, it's a time to come together and celebrate the rich legacy and vibrant culture of African Nova Scotians. This year, we’re thrilled to honour this year's provincial African Heritage Month theme, "Our Smiles, Our Joy, Our Resilience as African Nova Scotians," through thoughtful words from our very own staff who share their journeys, stories of community, resilience, and happiness.

Renise Cain: Displaying Resilience

Renise Cain, a Community Specialist at the Preston Township Library office, is deeply rooted in the history of her hometown of North Preston and the broader African Nova Scotian community. Celebrating a history that spans centuries, Renise perfectly sums up this year's theme:

“For over 400 years, we’ve been in this province, this country, and we smile through the hardships,” says Renise, reflecting on the journey and growth of her community—which now includes a library office. “As a child, we never had a library in our community. Or even in the Preston Township. Now, we have the Library Office, and bringing programs to the community is a blessing.”

Her contributions are acknowledged and cherished, especially by the youth in her community, which brings her much joy.

“When I see kids recognize me, they say ‘Hey, you're from the Library office. When are you coming back to do a program in the community?’ That brings me joy,” she says, highlighting beloved community programming and initiatives, like a community garden with 16 garden beds, book clubs, and more.

When she’s not working, Renise balances her professional life with personal passions, finding joy in family, fitness, and community activities. "I love spending time with my family and my daughter, hobbies, working out, going to the gym and watching my daughter play the violin," she shares, offering a glimpse into her life filled with resilience and happiness.

While she acknowledges the challenges of being an African Nova Scotian, and a Black woman in particular, she underscores the importance of community, hope for the future, and faith in overcoming those challenges.

"Being a Black woman, you face a lot of struggles that can take your joy and your smile from you,” she says. “But through it all, through prayer and finding that village that helped raise you to become the person you are, it allows you to overcome those obstacles.”

Renise emphasizes the joy in the community's children, who fortunately have grown up with the Preston Township Library office and the bright future ahead, adding she’s glad to be a part of a workplace that appreciates and honours her culture:

"I think the Library is doing a great job representing community—especially bringing programs out to these marginalized communities that never had programming in their community before,” says Renise. “It's representing our culture, our heritage, allowing our story to be told by us, through us—allowing our voice to be heard in different avenues. It could be dancing, cooking, having panel discussions, etc.—but it's through our lens. We're celebrating our culture, but we're also educating.”

Art Bouman: Uniting Community

Art Bouman's experience at Halifax Public Libraries, beginning in 2017, has been one of deep community connection through his role as a Service Advisor at Halifax North Memorial Public Library, and other library branches. Coming from a professional background in marketing and sales, Art finds a deep joy in making authentic, impactful connections with people from his own North End neighbourhood.

"It feels good just to be here and genuinely to help people with what they need,” says Art, highlighting the shift from transactional to meaningful interactions. “That brings me a lot of joy.”

Reflecting on this year’s African Heritage Month theme, Art notes the resilient spirit of African Nova Scotians, shaped by historical challenges but standing strong and united.

“It’s a testament to our resilience in the face of countless traumas, like human bondage, systemic exclusion,” says Art. “We still come through, collectively leading, collectively still being here.”

As for what brings him joy, Art notes the seamless blend of his professional and personal life in Halifax’s North End, where connections are aplenty. In his off-time, he’s involved in a housing cooperative and enjoys volunteering, showing his commitment to the community. Furthermore, Art is also involved in the local music scene, playing African American roots music with instruments like the banjo and blues guitar, and showcasing his singing talents.

One way or another, it always comes back to community.

"It feels really good to live and work in your community and not have those things be detached,” says Art. “There's no real separation between my work, home, or community life. I see community members when I am off shift, and I say hello to them, and I pass them on the street, or even at the store,  and I check in to see how they're doing… it’s a continuation of that joy that I get out of the job."

As we continue to celebrate African Heritage Month, Art appreciates the Library's dedication to celebrating African Nova Scotian culture year-round, valuing the inclusive programming and events that extend beyond branches in African Nova Scotian communities to encompass a wider audience.

"I've never worked at a place or been a part of an institution where particular months felt like such a big deal. It's truly heartening to see that, every year, the Library puts so much effort into making sure that there’s a lot of programming that centres the African Nova Scotian community,” says Art. “Even outside of the month, there are events that really centre the African Nova Scotian community or topics related to our history or the African diasporic experience in general, especially here at Halifax North Memorial Public Library, but across the system, it feels like there's a lot of effort put towards that.”

Nicole Johnson: Celebrating Culture

Nicole Johnson, a Community Specialist at the Preston Township Library Office, is a true example of the spirit of service and cultural celebration. With deep roots in East Preston, and Cherry Brook, Nicole has spent nearly four years with the Library, dedicating herself to community engagement and programming that reflects and supports the Black community's needs and heritage.

In the middle of developing, Rhythm & Royalty: Celebrating African Kings & Queens, opens a new window at Woodlawn Public Library, Nicole embraces African Heritage Month as a time of joy, resilience, and gratitude. "It’s celebratory in every way,” she says.

This year's African Heritage Month theme resonates with Nicole, who sees it as a reflection of the African Nova Scotian spirit. "It's everything in one statement: to be joyful, grateful, to be thankful," Nicole shares, emphasizing the community's enduring strength and unity through adversity. “What it means for me is that, no matter what, we will overcome.”

Needless to say, Nicole is committed to ensuring the communities she serves have all the help she can provide, which she says fulfills her to no end.

"Serving my community brings me joy,” says Nicole, highlighting the value of empathy in her work. “And not just the community, but the library visitors as well—nothing is too small or insignificant, and we're here to help."

Outside of work, Nicole remains closely tied to her community, participating in local events and supporting community-led initiatives. Her presence at these events displays her commitment to being there for her community and acknowledging their efforts and contributions.

"Being here, and showing up...that's the joy, right? Nicole says, noting she’s looking forward to community events, like an upcoming sledding party with the East Preston United Baptist Church. “That's the smile and the resilience, coming back up the hill once you get down—that's what I'm looking forward to."

Nicole is proud that the African Nova Scotian culture is celebrated in her chosen profession and is thankful to be a part of an inclusive workplace like Halifax Public Libraries. She notes she’s keen on contributing to that vibrant and inclusive representation of African Nova Scotian culture, aiming to highlight the community’s rich history beyond the narratives of struggle.

"Black history isn't just about a slave story,” says Nicole, excited to showcase the rich cultural heritage of African Nova Scotians through music, dance, and storytelling with her programming this year. “Let's go back to a time when there was joy, regality, and royalty.”

While celebrating African Heritage Month, Nicole emphasizes continuing to celebrate and educate about African Nova Scotian culture beyond February. As she advocates for ongoing engagement, learning, and sharing, she’s thankful to work with an organization that ensures the library and its community embrace and honour the vibrant culture year-round.

“Yesterday, we had two members of the public ask about the African Nova Scotia flag, which they had never seen before—these are opportunities where we get to share knowledge, so everybody leaves knowing a little bit more,” says Nicole. “This is one month of the year and the shortest month; we will continue to celebrate culture and not just wait for next February to come.”

A Beautiful Chapter

Our staff stories and reflections on this year’s provincial African Heritage Month theme create a beautiful picture of the African Nova Scotian experience filled with joy, resilience, and community. Their contributions to Halifax Public Libraries and the wider community showcase the vibrant spirit and rich cultural heritage of African Nova Scotians. As we celebrate African Heritage Month, we hope everyone can embrace the smiles, joy, and resilience that connect us, honour our shared history, and look forward to a future of hope.

Here's to a month filled with reflection, celebration, and stronger community.

To learn more about our African Heritage Month celebrations, events and more, visit https://ahm.halifaxpubliclibraries.ca/, opens a new window