Our People in Profile: Digby hospital worker and community volunteer Bonnie States says we should focus on African heritage ‘not just in February, but all year long’
Bonnie States has been a food service worker at Digby General Hospital for 16 years.
She prepares trays for patients, enters meal information into the computer, stocks fridges, operates the cash, and – as she describes it – does “everything but cook.”
States is also a proud and involved member of the African Nova Scotian community in the Digby area.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I’m proud of my ancestors who fought and did a lot before we were even here.”
For the past 12 years, States has helped the Digby Education Committee put on an annual African Heritage Month Gala at the Digby Legion. The event features African drumming, guest speakers, a turkey dinner and a dance.
Each year, the event also honours a local African Nova Scotian who has contributed to the community.
For 30 years, the local black community has been focused on building a new community centre – a dream that will come to fruition with a ground-breaking this spring. The long-fought for project to help address systemic racism is being supported by municipal, provincial and federal governments.
States has been active in these efforts and said the centre will benefit everyone in the community, regardless of colour.
States also sits on an education committee for black students, recognizing the power of education in opening up opportunities. She herself had to be pulled out of school in Grade 10 due to health issues.
As she reflects on the challenges of being of African descent, she remembers a time when she was on social assistance and going from place to place looking for work.
“I went around to 17 places in one day to fill out applications from one end of town to the other – everybody was saying they weren’t hiring,” she said.
States said the racism she experienced wasn’t as severe as some African Nova Scotians endured, as she was lighter skinned, being bi-racial.
“Growing up, I would see other people with darker skin treated differently than I was – they’d go into stores and staff would follow them around thinking they were going to steal. I still see that sometimes.”
States recalls years ago, a white friend used derogatory language to refer to someone with dark skin. When States shared with the friend that she too was black and asked if she would still be her friend if she had darker skin, the friend was surprised. Her friend had grown up learning to think negatively of people who were black. “I never heard her use the word again,” States said.
As States considers where the greatest opportunities lie for greater social progress, she said the education system is key.
“It would be nice if we could get some black teachers in the schools and to learn some of the African culture in the schools – not just in February, but all year long – from elementary all the way up. We’ve got to learn more about our culture.”