Black teens reflect on 1st official Emancipation Day

Kendra Gannon Sneddon

Three Black teenagers are urging Nova Scotians to continue having difficult discussions around racism ahead of Canada’s first official Emancipation Day, which will recognize the history of slavery and its legacy across the country.

“Sometimes [it’s] hard to be hopeful, but I feel like a lot of people are definitely opening up and realizing in order to move forward, in order to have that feeling of everybody being equal, we need to change a lot of things,” Adina Fraser told media last Tuesday.

Fraser is a recent graduate of Citadel High School in Halifax. She will be one of many Nova Scotians, and Canadians, who will officially mark Emancipation Day for the first time.

In March, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day across Canada. Less than a month later, Nova Scotia followed suit.

The date marks the anniversary of when Britain’s Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1834. The Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, freeing about 800,000 enslaved people in most British colonies, including Canada.

“It’s very upsetting to think about,” Kendra Gannon Sneddon, another recent graduate of Citadel High, said of the history of slavery. “It definitely impacts you when you hear these stories about how your family, or how people who look like you, were treated.”

Gannon Sneddon is half Jamaican and half Black Nova Scotian. She said some of her ancestors arrived in Canada using the Underground Railroad, a secret network of people who helped thousands of slaves escape the United States. Her ancestors eventually settled in Africville and North Preston.

Fraser said she still feels the impacts of slavery today. She said she tries to counter stereotypes by presenting a certain image to the world, something white people don’t have to do.

“Some people have this bias that they’ve grown up with that’s like, ‘Black people are uneducated, Black people don’t know how to read’ … so I want to present as best as possible in my class, because I know that Black people are smart people. We are intelligent people,” she said.

Fraser said there’s still work to be done and she hopes the upcoming anniversary will encourage all people to learn more about the effects of slavery and racism in Canada.

Armon Jeffries, 17, a Grade 12 student at Citadel High, said he feels optimistic as more people have started talking outwardly about racism in recent years.

He said in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement spurred significant change in how people tackle racism.

“I believe the only way you can move forward is with education and having the uncomfortable talks,” Jeffries said. “People need to be willing and step out of their comfort zone.” 

Fraser and Gannon Sneddon agree. They will both be using Canada’s first official Emancipation Day to reflect on the country’s history of slavery and anti-Black racism with their families. They hope others do the same.

“Don’t avoid the conversation. The more you avoid it, the more it just prolongs it and we don’t have time for that,” Fraser said.