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“We're in a pandemic of COVID and a pandemic of racism," says Sylvia Parris-Drummond, CEO of the Delmore “Buddy" Daye Learning Institute and 2020 CWEA Social Change Finalist. In a time of such upheaval and tragedy, it's difference-makers like Sylvia who are pushing forward and impacting change.

The Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute (DBDLI) is an Africentric institute that creates educational change and opportunities for learners and communities of African ancestry to empower them to reach their full potential. Based in Halifax, the institute spotlights on improving the educational prospects and outcomes for African Nova Scotians. Its multiple areas of focus – from research to community engagement, student outreach to curriculum development – come together to build relationships, strengthen community understanding, and give African Nova Scotians a voice.

Sylvia Parris-Drummond, named a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist, joined DBDLI as CEO in 2015. Trained as a teacher, she conducted various educational research projects throughout her studies and had the chance to take part in policy and curriculum training. She originally came to Halifax to apply her training in the Nova Scotia Department of Education. The CEO position, when presented to her, felt like the perfect fit, given her deep passion for the community. A passion that shows up in direct interaction with the community, and in her work to create systemic change in the community.

Plus, she loves a challenge. Speaking about anti-Black racism, she says “The reason we find ourselves in the same cycles is that systems haven’t achieved the policy integration they need to. I took this role, which provided a space to work with my community, to try to help our community see what it looks like when we’re walking and doing in an Africentric way. To demonstrate how we engage and how we lead. The challenges and the opportunities energize me.”

The Challenges and Opportunities of Creating Systemic Change

Parris-Drummond admits there are many challenges to achieving DBDLI’s vision and mission. One of the biggest is to get people at the most senior and appropriate tables to listen and learn in terms of what needs to happen for sustained change and positive impact in the community.

But she sees each challenge as an opportunity. “I know that we can make structures better for our community. And I know that if the systems get it right for us, things will be better for everybody. Once we have fair, easily accessible history, heritage and cultural awareness of African Nova Scotians, we will know the full history of Nova Scotia. And that will benefit all sectors.”

And then there’s the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DBDLI’s new facility is just two years old and was designed as an event space, where the community could gather, host consultations, and bring government and non-government perspectives under one roof. While the physical gatherings haven’t been able to take place, DBDLI created new and modified resources in digital format, and moved to hosting presentations and webinars virtually. These challenges brought about opportunities for new collaboration, which is positive for the community. Plus, as Parris-Drummond puts it, COVID-19 has introduced new approaches to learning. “We have learned how to listen in a different way,” she says. “This is a challenge turned opportunity.”

What Success Looks Like

Social change is a gradual process, and success lies in the progressive journey forward. For her part, Parris-Drummond is energized by the achievements that her team and community are realizing along the way. “When people reach out to us for more collaboration, and to bring perspective from the communities, that’s a success,” she says. It’s also a solid step forward when people start to understand the nuances of diversity. “There is diversity within our diversity,” she says. “So from a person vantage point I identify as a Black/African Nova Scotian woman – those are not separable.”

As part of the ongoing research work of the institute, they have been invited to national tables to discuss and share their Africentric research approaches and how they enrich findings and recommendations. All the while, they hold true to community voice engagement from youth, young adults and the community as a whole. “We are proud that our work has brought policy changes in the public-school system and post-secondary institutions. What happens well for African Nova Scotian/Black Canadian benefits all.” says Parris-Drummond.

Of note, their research has also reached beyond provincial borders, with projects currently underway across Canada and around the world, including with the Canadian Institute for People of African Descent (CIPAD) and Promising School Practices (Ghana, Ontario and Nova Scotia)

And, an unexpected result of being a Finalist in the 2020 RBC Canadian Entrepreneur Awards has been increased publicity and support by individuals and organizations to offer donations. Utilizing various media platforms has provided a way to share their good work and engage with the broader Nova Scotian community. “People are seeing the work we are doing and the impact we are having,” says Parris-Drummond.

While she draws energy from the award, what really excites her is the progress she and her team are making. “We are always moving, doing better, getting stronger,” she says. “And by using the strength we have, and building relationships with the community, we can support each other and create change.”

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