Jones tackles the ‘disgrace’ of ‘institutional racism’

Activist Rocky Jones gives inaugural James Robinson Johnston lecture

Rocky Jones giving the inaugural address of the James Robinson Johnston Distinguished Lecture Series. Photo: Kaanayo Nwachukwu

Burnley "Rocky" Jones says Halifax municipal council's decision to approve the sale of St. Patrick's-Alexandra School to a local developer is shameful.

Jones says the council made its decision knowing full well that three different community groups had offered to turn the building into a facility for community organizations working in the lower-income, central Halifax neighbourhood.

"It's a downright disgrace that we have children who are continually looking for some place to go," he said. "They are continually finding that they don't have the freedom that other children have."

Jones made the remarks last night while giving the inaugural address of the James Robinson Johnston Distinguished Lecture Series.

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A cross section of the audience at the lecture. Photo: Kaanayo Nwachukwu

The Revolutionary

Jones is a well-known civil rights activist who in 1965 joined the students' union in a demonstration in front of the American Consulate in Toronto. Shortly thereafter, the media began to refer to him as "Rocky the Revolutionary." In 1970, he helped launch Dal's unique Transition Year Program aimed at assisting Nova Scotian blacks and natives succeed in university.

Jones also helped negotiate Dal's Indigenous Black and Mi'kmaq law program from which he graduated in 1992. As a prominent civil rights lawyer, he has argued cases all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Last year, he was successful in lobbying against the appointment of a white outsider heading up the Africville Heritage Society.

How far we have not come

He decries the fact that black people still face institutional racism in Canada and cited the police system as an example.

"The blacks don't give information to the police when crimes are committed because they see the police as an occupying force in their community," he said.

He said blacks in Halifax grew up believing police were there to contain them, rather than believing the police would protect them.

"We have witnessed and experienced, on first-hand basis, many of us, the police brutality," he said. "Racism is the reason why the black community is still afraid of the police."

Jones said his comments did not suggest that all police officers in Halifax and their leadership are racists and are unconcerned with what is happening in black communities.

He said although segregation in the Nova Scotia school system officially ended in 1954, black people have continued to be treated unequally within schools and other Canadian institutions.

A combination of these injustices was what led him to bring the Black Panther Party to Canada in the 1960s, he said.

"The '60s happened because of the '40s and '50s. All these institutions were against us and we decided to forget the system," he said.

His comments were greeted with loud and thunderous applauses from the audience.

More than 400 people crammed into Room 105 of Dalhousie University's Weldon Law Building to hear Jones speak on "50 Years of The Struggle For Human And Civil Rights by African Nova Scotians."

The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies organized the event.

Afua Cooper, the chair, described Jones as the embodiment of the spirit of commitment to civil rights struggle in Nova Scotia for more than 50 years.

"Rocky has been at the centre of visioning, revisioning and imagining what life can be like for black people in this country," she said.


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