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Empowering through video 

The Empowerful Project teams up African Nova Scotian youth and seniors to create documentaries about community leaders. Molly Segal went to East Preston to see the first of a series.

click to enlarge People at the East Preston Rec Centre celebrate a local hero - MOLLY SEGAL
  • People at the East Preston Rec Centre celebrate a local hero
  • Molly Segal

Things are running a bit late. It's after 11 on the last Saturday morning in April, but the couple dozen people at the East Preston Rec Centre are excited, sitting patiently in their chairs arranged in front of a large TV. Here, a seven-minute documentary about the life of local African-Nova Scotian hero Sinclair Williams is about to begin. 

It's the first in a series of what Pink Dog Productions hopes to be 10 short documentaries. The Empowerful Project, first suggested by RCMP Cpl. Craig Smith, celebrates the lives of relatively unknown African-Nova Scotian community leaders. 

Based in Halifax, Pink Dog is a production company with a mandate to create "make a difference" videos and online resources. Its Empowerful project gives at-risk youth the opportunity to work with elders to rediscover local history and find positive role models to celebrate through film.

Last October, the East Preston community gathered to vote for one of four candidates selected by the youth. They chose Williams, the first black man to work for the Dartmouth police force in 1968. He served until 1987, when he went on disability due to multiple sclerosis. "It felt excellent" to be selected, says Sinclair. Now wheelchair-bound, he's quiet, but his face lights up with a warm smile as new arrivals squeeze through the cozy room to congratulate him. 

His wife, Dolly Williams, who organized the group of about 20 seniors who worked with the at-risk youth, says Sinclair has trouble thinking of himself as a hero. But breaking into a profession previously dominated by white men was no small feat.

"It's nice to let young people know what can be done," says Doris Evans, 84, who's involved in the project. The video, which will be available online, is a way "to let people know what's happening" in an often-ignored community. 

Empowerful also bridges a generation gap. "You don't really get young people and seniors in the same space at the same time," says Marshall Williams, Sinclair's nephew.

To fund the Williams video, Pink Dog turned to a variety of sources---the 4Cs Foundation and government grants were the largest contributors, explains Dawn Harwood-Jones, Pink Dog's executive producer. The RCMP funded the food for the youth workshops, and community organizations, such as Leave Out Violence, In My Own Voice and the Black Educators Association, also helped. But the project took longer than expected, says Harwood-Jones, so Pink Dog donated additional time to finish its production.

Pink Dog's recent projects include The Right to Bare Arms, a series of short, comic videos "to open people's minds about why we need immigrants," says Harwood-Jones. One parodies Molson's "I Am Canadian" ad. (Check them out at pinkdog.ca.)

Now the second Empowerful project is underway in Mulgrave Park, with about a dozen youth already involved. Pink Dog hopes to complete the series within three to four years, says Ashlee Starratt, 27, a producer for the company. Pink Dog is still working on getting the funding it needs for the next project.

The end goal is a website to host both the videos and research about African-Nova Scotian heroes.

 "We're building a very comprehensive product for African-Canadian history," says Starratt. "There's really no excuse not to teach the history---everything will be there for them."

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