ECUM SECUM – Society is in the midst of a monumental shift due to the Black Lives Matter movement and one solidarity figure standing alone can be as powerful as thousands peacefully standing shoulder to shoulder.
The brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police and captured on video has created a collective swell of rage at the injustice and growing support for Black people in their quest for change, justice, and racial equality. While protests are primarily in urban areas, rural people have been finding their own way to show solidarity.
Ecum Secum is a two-hour drive from Halifax, where the biggest peaceful protests in N.S. have taken place, and 32-year-old resident Scott Jewers has obstacles in making that trip from his home.
Watching the video of Floyd’s murder scared Jewers. He felt immediately what was happening was very wrong. “The fact he held him down for 8.46 minutes as a spectacle while George Floyd begged for his life is nothing short of a public execution of yet another black man. All over a $20 bill,” he told The Journal.
“The Black Community has seen this so many times and they keep having to relive this same trauma over and over. Think if this video disturbs you – imagine that being a common occurrence in your communities and your families? So, in short - I was angry and instead of just being angry I knew there was something that could be done and I did it.”
Jewers made homemade cardboard signs reading Black Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe and set out on his own to help make a difference in the lives of many people he does not know. He stood alone, holding his sign in the air, fist pumped, on the corner of a solitary crossroad with his dog, Hawke, for five and half hours in peaceful protest of systemic racism. Drivers passing by acknowledged him with horn blasts, pumped fists – or not a glance.
Jewers says he has witnessed repeated racism against Black people. “I know there are a lot of crude jokes, I’ve heard many and I’m ashamed to say as a young man I did take part in those jokes. But I was never raised to not like Black people, but I wasn’t really raised to intentionally be inclusive. I was generally ignorant to a lot as I’m sure a lot of youth in rural Nova Scotia still are.”
The first experience Jewers had with racism was when he got pulled over by police. Jewers was accompanied by a Black friend, in an area that had no Black residents. “I noticed it seemed the officer was acting different, but I didn’t think much of it so upon leaving my friend informed me that I just experienced ‘driving while Black.’ I didn’t even notice because I was so ignorant to it. I knew something was odd, but he knew exactly what it was.”
There is a need within rural Nova Scotia and Canada as a whole, Jewers says, to go from reacting to becoming proactive in the movement. Jewers believes you must become involved by speaking out and saying aloud you are pro Black rights instead of reacting to someone saying something horrible. “Put Black rights at the forefront of conversations and make sure everyone knows you won’t support racism,” he says. “Every time you choose inaction you are hurting someone.
“The message that Black Lives Matter is about global cultural recognition for past and current crimes against the Black community and that we should recognize their incredible contribution of culture, comedy, beauty, style, music, food, intellectualism and their potential. We should celebrate them and embrace their diversity.”
Jewers discusses the confusion between Black Lives Matter and those who argue it should be, ‘all lives matter.’ He says the reality is not all lives were hunted, murdered and harassed like Black families have been for generations. Many have faced trauma, he explains, but whites have not faced the collective trauma faced by the Black community. “That is a statistical fact and a clear matter of history.
“Right now – this is their moment – this is their message – this is their revolution – they have been fighting for it for generations. Everyone knows they fought hard and the last thing they need right now is a bunch of white people making it about them again.” Jewers speaks with passion when he says, “The message is Black Lives Matter and when they finally do, that’s a step towards true equality in practice and not just on paper, and that step to change the system will benefit all of humanity – Black, Indigenous, Asian, White, Gay, Straight, and Trans – all of us!”
When Jewers prepared his cardboard signs and went up to ‘the corner’ in his rural community, he knew people would wonder what his motivation was. “I think people understood something has to be said and they have seen things in their own lives that bring them shame but they don’t know how to start a conversation. I’m hoping this gives them a good reason to start changing the conversation themselves.” Children are out of school right now and so he says, “Speak to your kids.”
This topic, systemic racism, Jewers says, has to make people uncomfortable. He wants Nova Scotians to recognize and acknowledge the reality of it and to become part of the change. “Canada needs to set and meet the standards for human rights so we actually have a leg to stand on when facing other countries and their human rights violations.”