Halifax Explosion anniversary committee seek award winning poet

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Barry Cahill is a retired provincial civil servant (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(*** This is an original draft of the article published by The Signal***)

Canada’s newest parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke may be asked to produce an original piece of work to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

The Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee met at NSCC Institution of Technology campus on Wednesday to discuss grant recommendations for local organizations who wish to participate in next year’s centennial.

Committee member Barry Cahill raised the motion for the committee to contact Clarke to see if he would be interested in having his work commissioned by HRM.

“If anyone would be approached to do this, George is the one,” Cahill said.

Clarke, native Nova Scotian and person of African-American and Mi’kmaq descent, is a nationally acclaimed poet and playwright. Clarke’s work offers a political and historical insight on the experiences of African-Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia.

Clarke has won several awards and recognitions. In 2008, he received the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the city of Toronto. In 2001, he received the Governor General’s Award for his poetic anthology, “Execution Poems”.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Clarke is said to be writing historical poetry to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Having read this article about Clarke’s interest in writing about the Halifax Explosion, Cahill said he immediately thought about contacting the poet to ask him to contribute his work in the community collaboration.

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In attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were committee members and staff. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

During the meeting, newly appointed committee member Dan O’Brien raised concern over whether asking Clarke to be commissioned by HRM would be inconsiderate to local poets. O’Brien said that Halifax’s poet laureate is to be announced this month, and commissioning Clarke’s work would possibly snub the new poet laureate.

“My fear is if he would be stepping on toes. I’m worried about a conflict of interest between the Halifax laureate poet and us commissioning George Elliott Clarke,” O’Brien said.

In regards to O’Brien’s concerns, chairman Craig Walkington explained that there is no conflict of interest and that such matter should be left alone.

“I don’t think George writing a piece and the Halifax poet laureate are mutually exclusive, one doesn’t exist at the expense of the other,” Walkington said.

The committee concluded with the motion for staff to investigate the feasibility of HRM requesting George Elliott Clarke to commission a piece of art.

Cahill has known Clarke for over 20 years, having shared in an interest in the history of African Nova Scotians. In particular, James R. Johnston, who was the first African Nova Scotian to graduate with a law degree.

“George is a very prominent African Nova-Scotian and a source of pride for everyone in this province,” Cahill said.

Cahill said that Clarke would have exclusive insight on how the Halifax Explosion impacted the African Nova Scotian community in Halifax.

“George is one of us,” Cahill said, “he knows the history, he’s interested in the history.”

The next committee meeting is scheduled for February 17th at a location yet to be announced.

Unsung: the untold story of a storyteller

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Dawn Harwood-Jones gives internships to underprivileged people from diverse cultural backgrounds. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Taped onto the white, wooden door to Dawn Harwood-Jones’ production office is a poster that’s faded and curling up around the edges. In the centre of this poster, a blue and green globe with the words “The Golden Rule” bring rays of light to its core. At the end of each ray lies “Christianity”, “Islam”, “Buddhism”, among other world religions.

Looking toward her office door from her cluttered desk, Harwood-Jones explains the meaning behind the aging poster.

“The essence of every religion, the golden rule, is to treat other people the way you’d like to be treated. That’s why we have that poster,” Harwood-Jones says.

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1313 Hollis Street is also home to Smallest Halifax Art Gallery and Deli Green Bakery. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

1313 Hollis St., is home to Pink Dog Productions, a video production company co-founded by Harwood-Jones and Roberta Hancock. The company specializes in “make a change” videos that promote diversity, community and heritage.

The 64-year-old executive producer, musician, artist, community volunteer, event promoter and choir conductor spends most of her days on the phone or at her laptop, answering emails and networking with collaborators.

But Harwood-Jones’ job is more than slapping together videos for television stations.

“We give people a voice,” Harwood-Jones says.

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Harwood-Jones spends her time in the office on the phone and answering emails. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

After leaving her 20-year career at CBC in 2007, Harwood-Jones set out to produce and sell her own public service announcements with her colleague Roberta Hancock. With the help of a few friends, Pink Dog Productions was born.

Examples of her work with Pink Dog Productions include Empowerful. In this project, Harwood-Jones enabled youth and the elderly to work together to learn about and be inspired by motivational figures of African Nova Scotian descent.

Today, Harwood-Jones is working on finishing up Unsung Heroes.

For over a year, Harwood-Jones and her colleagues have been producing a live presentation of stories, spoken word and musical performances that confront injustices that have happened to war veterans from different cultural backgrounds.

The project is in its final stages of production.

Harwood-Jones says that although the stories of Unsung Heroes may invoke feelings of guilt and resentment, the presentation itself is a celebratory coming-together of Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Jewish, African Nova Scotian and European peoples through historic re-enactment and musical performances.

Today’s Unsung Heroes echoes a video that Harwood-Jones produced with Pink Dog Productions and uploaded onto YouTube. In the video, local poets and musicians perform while stories are told by veterans that remember the forgotten soldiers of African and Mi’kmaq descent.

“Part of telling these stories is saying that it can change. Because it has,” Harwood-Jones says, referring to what she says is Canada’s unspoken past of cultural discrimination.

What Harwood-Jones refers to is the mistreatment of African Canadian soldiers during the World Wars.

For example, as Harwood-Jones points out, British and American Commanders banned soldiers of African descent from marching with white soldiers during the Paris Liberation of 1944.

Harwood-Jones says she feels that Canadian history has neglected to tell the story of African Nova Scotians, Mi’kmaq, and other ethnic peoples. To make up for this lack of history, Unsung Heroes tells stories about discrimination and cruelty so to educate today’s generations about the importance of tolerance in our community.

Tolerance and community is something Harwood-Jones says she learned at a young age.

“Injustice drives my life.”

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Harwood-Jones works on post-production of Unsung Heroes. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Born into an Anglophone family from Montebello, Quebec, Harwood-Jones quickly realized how fortunate she was as an English-speaking Canadian.

“As I grew up, I started to realize that even though we were poor we were privileged compared to so many people in Canada.”

Harwood-Jones tells of how her mother’s friend, who was of African descent, had to face numerous barriers in order to emigrate from Grenada to Canada. Her mother was broken-hearted by her friend’s misfortune and talked about the unfair treatment of black people with her young daughter.

“I early on learned about unfairness of people of African descent,” she says.

Looking back to the poster on her door, Harwood-Jones says that underlying everything she does is the message of the golden rule.

As an outspoken person who wants to be heard, Harwood-Jones says she uses her privilege to enable others to speak up. She says this is her way of treating others the way she wants to be treated.

“That’s what was so magical about [Unsung Heroes]. It was having so many cultures in the same room, honouring each other. And I’d like to see that in the city,” Harwood-Jones says.

For Harwood-Jones, the arts are tools for social change. For more than two decades, Harwood-Jones has been giving First Nations, African Nova Scotians, immigrants, and at-risk youth a platform to perform on.

Although Unsung Heroes is nearing the end of its production, Harwood-Jones can’t say that she’ll be taking a break anytime soon.

When Harwood-Jones isn’t working at Pink Dog Productions, she’s conducting a choir for seniors and youth. She is also co-hosting a family of Syrian refugees in Chester, where she lives.

“It keeps going with her. The video is done, the photos are done, everyone involved in the project has moved on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawn is already thinking about the next project in the community,” says Sean Dewitt, a colleague of Harwood-Jones and photographer for Haligonia.ca.

For Harwood-Jones, the golden rule isn’t just a motivational poster to hang on the wall, but words to live by and give voice to.

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Harwood-Jones’ office sitting area. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Four home remedies to help you cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental disorder that is associated with changes in the weather during winter months. In most cases, SAD causes symptoms of depression including feelings of worthlessness, having a lack of energy, sleeping troubles and thoughts of death or suicide.

In some cases, SAD could occur in the early months of spring or summer. In these cases the symptoms are slightly different and may include weight loss, poor appetite and anxiety.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The cause of SAD is widely speculated to be the result of a lack of sunlight, which in turn could decrease levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that affects changes of mood and sleep patterns.

Lack of sunlight is also said to cause an increase of melatonin, the brain chemical that regulates sleep.

A rise in melatonin levels may affect sleep schedule which may be related to symptoms of depression.

The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario suggest that SAD could be caused by early childhood trauma.

Who does it affect?

Women are up to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. Adults under the age of 55 are more at risk to developing SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs more often among people living in the northern hemisphere than those closer to the equator. Daylight savings times, the constant change of seasons and weather, and the lack of daylight associated with being nearer to the north pole all contribute to the risks involved with developing SAD.

How is SAD treated?

There are a number of methods to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder including light therapy and anti-depressent prescription drugs. It is important to seek medical advice before beginning a treatment.

In a YouTube video produced by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dr. Robert Levitan explores treatments and preventative measures for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For mild cases of SAD, multiple online medical sources recommend the following at home remedies.

1. Maximize on the time you spend outdoors.

Because the leading cause of SAD is a lack of sunlight, spending enough time outside when the weather calls for clear skies is essential to fighting back symptoms of depression.

The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario recommends rearranging your living environment so that even when you are inside you can benefit from the sunlight near a window or open area.

2. Exercise daily.

Having a healthy lifestyle is to the key to avoid health issues including mental illness. To avoid symptoms of depression, make an exercise routine and stick to it. Exercising helps you release built up energy and relieve stress. Exercising outside is an added benefit to coping with SAD.

3. Prioritize sleep.

A recurring symptom of SAD is exhaustion linked to lack of sleep. The Better Sleep Council of Canada recommends regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, daily mental stimulation, taking a warm bath before bed and making your sleeping environment more comfortable.

4. Pass on the carbs, eat more protein.

A number of online sources including WebMD advise those who are coping with SAD to avoid simple carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread. These carbs quickly raise blood sugar levels which then pump excessive amounts of insulin into your body. Instead stick to complex carbohydrates like oatmeal and whole grains which increase the serotonin levels that your body needs to regulate your mood.

Leafy greens, fish and turkey are said to contain nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D and amino acid tryptophan that can boost serotonin levels.