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In Conversation with Rodney Small, Director of One North End Community Economic Development Society (The O.N.E)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I was born and raised here in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I’ve been volunteering in the community for the last 20 years as a basketball coach and other leadership roles which prepared me for my current career in community economic development at Common Good Solutions (CGS). I see myself as a community builder, mentor, coach, entrepreneur, and change-maker. My passion for the African Nova Scotian (ANS) community inspires my work – it’s ingrained in my upbringing. In fact, if you’ve grown up in the ANS community, giving back isn’t so much of a choice as it’s an obligation because of how important it is for our young people to have that kind of support. I’m well known for my forward-thinking and innovative ideas that deal with issues that affect marginalized communities. I’m currently on secondment through CGS working as a director for the Director of One North End Community Economic Development Society (the O.N.E). I’m helping them build their business model and create a strategic plan for the next three years so that they’re able to sustain themselves as a non-profit organization. I also own a local barbershop at Dalhousie University that’s centered around social enterprise. We work closely with students, in particular those from marginalized communities.

What is the O.N.E. and with what purpose was it created?

The O.N.E has created an innovative approach to informing and empowering ANS youth. It involves having an open dialogue and creating space for them to tell their story through their lens. We started out by visiting schools within the North End of Halifax—which many of our low-income residents attend—and forming focus groups with students to talk about their experience living in the North End. We were particularly concerned with the dynamics of gentrification and racial division in the North End of Halifax. In recent months, the O.N.E team has gone on to work with the province around unemployment rates for African Nova Scotians. The unemployment rates for African Nova Scotians are much higher than any other ethnic group. The unemployment rate for youth between the ages of 18 and 35 is approximately 12%, but for African Nova Scotians it’s approximately 26%. The O.N.E is determined to identify the gaps within the employment eco-system for ANS youth and working closely with key stakeholders to create a level of equity the is important to our province’s growth. 

What roles do culture and heritage play in building strong and vibrant communities?

I think that culture and heritage are the essence of what community really is. A community is vibrant when it has many different people and cultures. As for heritage, well that’s everything. We can’t forget about where we came from if we want to know where we’re going. For the O.N.E, culture and heritage play a very important roles in creating healthy dialogue around gentrification. So, I very much believe that culture and heritage are imperative in creating healthy and vibrant communities. We must be able to recognize the individual cultures that make up our communities and most importantly those who came before us. I think that right now, we’re hiding many of the unique cultures that exist in Nova Scotia, specifically African Nova Scotians and the Mi’kmaq People.

What does it mean to belong in a community? 

I think it’s about having close interpersonal relationships and feeling that you can trust the people around you. A place where you feel a sense of belonging, feel welcomed, and your voice is valued.

What does it take to build meaningful relationships?

I think that you have to be genuine, open-minded, a great listener, and trustworthy. All of our engagements are made through building “meaningful relationships” with “credible messengers”. These messengers are individuals who have established their reputations within the community as genuine, open-minded…etc. At O.N.E North End, we’re big on energy. If your energy tells us that you’re coming from a mindset of defending your position, then we would immediately know that we would have to change that mind-set to encourage a healthy conversation. Progress can only take place when we have healthy dialogue. 

Do you think there is an issue of loneliness within HRM? 

Based on the conversations that we’ve had within the North End of Halifax this was definitely a concern, specifically amongst elders. Nova Scotia has a rapidly aging population and a lot of older people are finding themselves in isolated situations.  

What do you think we can do to combat loneliness as a province?

I think creating collaborative workspaces is a great way to combat loneliness. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do here at CGS. Having healthy spaces that bring together different sectors who often work in silos allows for growth, and at the very least, we can start to draw people from isolation. It’s really about creating healthy spaces that are welcoming and inclusive to everyONE. A wise person once said, “we cannot have a public space that is not welcoming to all, otherwise; it is not a public space”.