Theresa Halfkenny, who was Amherst’s first woman African Nova Scotian town councilor when she was elected in the mid-1990s, was presented with the Paul Harris Community Fellowship Award during the club’s 80th anniversary dinner on Saturday.
“I can’t tell you how deeply honoured and truly blessed I feel tonight as I accept this award,” Halfkenny said after accepting the award from club president Angela Bourgeois.
Along with becoming an honorary member, the club donated US $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation in Halfkenny’s honour. She joins an impressive list of community members presented the award including former premier Roger Bacon, the late Roy Maltby, Jack Matthews, Jean Miller, Art ‘Sonny’ Foster, Gerry Cormier, Gerry Helm and last year’s recipient Heather LeMoine.
Halfkenny served on numerous town committees while on council and was on the police commission as well. She was active in the YMCA as an aerobics instructor and board member and served on the board of the former Family and Children’s Services Board.
She is a past member of the Black Business Initiative, the Black United Front for Nova Scotia and canvassed for numerous charitable organizations including Heart & Stroke, the YMCA and the Canadian Cancer Society.
Always proud of her heritage, she performed in Don Miller’s play, the Hill, and participated in African Heritage Month by speaking to students at Cumberland County schools, is a member of the Nova Scotia Multicultural Association and a strong supporter of the Highland AME Church.
Halfkenny has also been very active with Autumn House, Cumberland County’s transition house, and on the board of the Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association, is a facilitator for the parent information program for the Department of Justice and has worked as a volunteer and member of the citizens advisory committee for prisons in Springhill and Dorchester, N.B.
Along with being co-chair of the Tatamagouche Centre, she has also chaired the Amherst Black Educators Committee since 2006.
Guest speaker, retired Sen. Donald Oliver told the dinner that the province’s African Nova Scotian community has come a long way on their journey toward equality, but he stressed the journey is still ongoing.
“Black History Month is an important celebration to me. For many years, I have spoken to groups across Canada about the contributions of black Canadians during Black History Month. I also believe that Black History Month serves as a string around the fingers of all Canadians,” Oliver said. “It reminds us to keep up the fight against racism. It compels us to ask ourselves ‘What can I do to improve the condition of black people, indeed, all visible minorities here in Canada and around the world?’”
Oliver said black Canadians still face many challenges and the taint of discrimination continues to impede progress. While there have been apologies from the city of Halifax and the province for the injustice of Africville, and laws have been enacted to prohibit discrimination and racism, there’s still much to be done.
“Studies continue to show that if you’re a black Canadian, you are more likely than any other ethnic group not to get a job or a promotion,” the retired senator said. “Your are also more likely to get pulled over for driving while black or to be discriminated in the courts.
“What is more, there are very few blacks occupying the corner offices of Canadian companies or key political roles. That’s because racism still exists in an undercurrent of apathy and ignorance that continues to impede advancement.”