'Human Library books' talk about racism at African Heritage event at Acadia

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on February 29, 2016

Four so-called human books took part in a panel for Black History Month at Acadia University on Feb. 25. Participant were: Sobaz Benjamin, left, Debra Perry, El Jones and Jacob Sampson.

©Wendy Elliott, Kingscountynews.ca

WOLFVILLE - Sobaz Benjamin compares his life as a Black man to the Japanese pottery technique known as kintsugi, where broken ceramics are repaired with powdered gold or silver to treat breakage as part of the history of an object.

Rather than hiding the hurt and pain of words, the Halifax-based filmmaker said, they make us stronger.

Four human books - Benjamin, El Jones, Deborah Paris and Jacob Sampson - brought their stories of surviving racism to Acadia University Feb. 25.

A community activist in her 60s, Paris calls herself an indigenous Canadian. Born of a Black father and First Nations mother, she fought almost every day growing up, but today says proudly, “the last few years no one tells me who I am."

As a child, Paris once visited the home of a fellow classmate whose mother asked, “What are you doing with that nigger in my house?” Neither girl knew the term, but they recognized the negativity.

“I’ve found music and art save us,” Perry said, “and I believe that the things people fear keep us apart.”

Academic and spoken word artist Jones has been finding new communities in her work with the incarcerated, where she’s listened to “some of the worst stories you could ever hear.”

According to Jones, 43 per cent of Black kids drop out of school and the rate of Black women being incarcerated is growing.

A self-described Valley boy, Sampson went to a high school where there were five students of colour in a population of 900. Now he is a teacher in Halifax.

Late at night, Sampson said, when he hails cab drivers, they slow down, check out the colour of his skin and drive off.

A frustrated Black audience member said she fears racism is becoming worse in Atlantic Canada. She described been denied an apartment rental in Wolfville after the landlord saw the colour of her skin.

“It’s a daily thing,” she said.

Both Sampson and Benjamin reflected a desire for open communication between racial groups.

“It’s time well spent,” Benjamin said of the session, “to put down our masks and spend an hour opening our hearts and minds.”

The Vaughan Memorial Library hosted the Human Library for Black History Month. A human library is a library where the ‘books’ are living people who volunteer to share their stories with ‘readers’ who are members of the community. Dr. Claudine Bonner facilitated the event.