Through My Lens: The National Black Canadians Summit

Black woman wearing African print dress at podium
Dr. Lynn Jones, Black Nova Scotian elder, reads the Halifax Declaration and the actions needed to improve the lives of Black Canadians and people of African descent. (Alvero Wiggins photo)

Having the opportunity to attend The National Black Canadians Summit in Halifax this summer was an amazing experience.

As a Black Canadian, it was transformational to be immersed in my people and culture. Learning about and having the chance to photograph even a small part of the African and Black Canadian Diaspora was a gift that I’ll cherish for many moons. The different countries and cultures that make up our people was truly a beauty to behold.

Black women standing together (a Mom and daughter)
Aleemah, 11-year old artist, and her mother Melissa, academic doing her PhD, take a break from selling art at the Youth-Led event: A Night of Black Culture and Creativity. (Alvero Wiggins photo)

Black Canadians of African descent have a rich history in these lands — especially here in Nova Scotia where they have been present for more than 400 years.

Whether discussing Mathieu DaCosta translating Indigenous coastal languages ​​for European traders in the 1600s or Lawrence Hill‘s vast collection of literary works that help shape the landscape for change and advancement that is much needed today, our people have impacted this nation on so many levels.

One of my absolute favorite parts of the Summit was the vibrant and electrifying fashion choices worn by the 1,200 delegates. With so many different and fresh looks and styles, the Summit could have been called Halifax Fashion Weekend!

One of the more special moments that stood out for me took place the last night of the Summit. I was outside the old World Trade and Convention Centre, now a multidisciplinary arts space called Light House Arts Centre, preparing to photograph an 11 year-old artist from Toronto. She and her 9 year-old sister were the youngest delegates, attending the conference with their motheran academic doing her PhD.

Before conducting their photoshoot, I noticed a cardinal-looking woman in a beautiful African-style dress with three people following and attending her. Despite not knowing who she was, her stature de ella and their presence de ella made it clear she was someone of significance.

Quickly and shyly, I asked if I could take her photo. “Of course,” she said, and without hesitation she struck a pose.

I pointed my camera and hastily clicked a few shots without really checking or adjusting my settings. Before I could look up from reviewing my images in the digital display, she had walked away.

I quickly called out, “May I ask where you’re from?”

Looking back with a small smile, she said, “New York, we move fast there.”

Black woman wearing orange dress
Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, striking a quick pose. (Alvero Wiggins photo)

This interaction caught me by surprise: I usually at least get the name of the person I’m photographing, but she was on the move.

When I did get a chance to review the images, I was happy to see that her portrait turned out great. After reviewing the Summit program and doing a little Google search, I was super excited to discover that this stylish and speedy New Yorker was the United Nations delegate Dr. Natalia Kanem. She is the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a medical doctor and a graduate of several American universities, including Harvard.

It was an honor and an inspiration to have had the opportunity to take her photograph, and a blessing to have been in her presence during The National Black Canadian Summit.

More photos through Alvero Wiggins’ lens

Black man with fist raised speaking at a podium.
DeRico Symonds, Summit Co-Chair, holds the Black Power fist while reading The Halifax Declaration. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Black woman in head band and colorful dress at a podium
Iona Stoddard, Halifax City Councillor, speaks at the closing ceremony. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Black man wearing Africville Museum t-shirt standing outside museum.
Mark Carvery, third generation descendent of Africville and kind and knowledgeable guide at the Africville Museum. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Photo of yellow church-like building with red roof
The Africville Museum is a time capsule of stories and artifacts waiting to be discovered. This story is still unfolding to this day. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Black woman with long hair speaking at a podium with her notes in her hand
El Jones, spoken word poet, educator, journalist and community activist, reads the Halifax Declaration and the actions needed to improve the lives of Black Canadians and people of African descent. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Young Black man smiling sitting down wearing a blue sleeveless shirt and blue jeans
Drayton Mulindabigwi Jabo, CEO and founder of an Ottawa-based youth-led creative hub 20today20tomorrow. He has dreams to grow his business from him. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
Black teen woman speaking at a podium
Damini Awoyiga, 15-year-old artistic creator and spoken word poet, performs her work at the closing ceremony. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
A colorful quilt
A Visit From Mamay: a vibrant and beautiful quilt designed by David Woods. (Alvero Wiggins photo)
A colorful quilt
Grandma’s Hands, another colorful quilt designed by David Woods. (Alvero Wiggins photo)

Through My Lens is a community series that features the point-of-view stories behind photos from across the East Coast.

Five hands raised in a fist in Being Black in Canada logo

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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