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)