“A profile on two of the most influential Black women activists in Vancouver today, Nova Stevens and Shamika Mitchell. Only this year, their relentless organizing efforts led to the proclamation of August 1st as Emancipation Day in the City of Vancouver. August 1st, 1834, marks the day when slaves were freed in Canada.”
Nova Stevens: A Vessel for Truth
The first thing I noticed about Nova was her smile. I mean, she is a Miss Universe Canada finalist for a reason. Her warm smile hints at her naturally generous spirit. I began by asking Nova how she would describe herself, and further, how she would like to be perceived. At first, she balked at such self-directed questions but it didn’t take her long to come up with answers. She said to me that she would very much like to “be known for kindness” as well as a big heart, courage and standing up for what she believes in.
Nova moved to Calgary alone at the very young age of 6, after fleeing a brutal civil war in South Sudan. Even with all the odds against her, she excelled and did a lot of community work from a young age, always with a positive outlook. I asked Nova when she fully realised her blackness, since she arrived in a predominantly white neighborhood. Even as a child, she’d always noticed that her features were different from most of the girls in her grade and wished otherwise. It finally dawned on her that different could instead be beautiful when she watched the popular 2000’s Black film, “Deliver us from Eva” which starred a young Meagan Good. Starry-eyed, she recounted how she’d realised that Meagan’s “full lips” were just like hers and since she was obviously very beautiful, that helped Nova to see the innate beauty in herself. “This is why representation is so important,” she shares. Since then, women like Beyoncé have continued to instill that confidence in her and other Black women everywhere. Now she affirms simply that, “Melanin is worth more than gold.” An apt observation, because what else could have her radiating so confidently over even our virtual meeting?
The next issue we discussed sounded almost oxymoronic: Vancouver and blackness. I asked Nova if she thinks the city recognizes our community and holds space for us. In other words, does the city recognize its blackness? Nova firmly disagreed. An outsider’s view might think so, as Vancouver appears a progressive city, but a closer look reveals that the city’s actions often highly differ from their words. One very good example would be the painfully recent proclamation of Emancipation Day in the City of Vancouver, as if slavery was a new concept. Emancipation Day wasn’t news to the US but it’s completely foreign to most Canadians (Nova has explained this in many an interview).