The artefacts in this section have been selected to demonstrate thorough and detailed knowledge of issues in my specific doctoral area of educational studies and other theme areas I'm interested in learning more about.
Image Source: Wix Photo Library
4. Spirituality, Dissertation Review & School Paper
As I moved through the various courses required during the first year of the PhD program, there were a couple of other assignments that enabled me to explore topics of interest to me more deeply. One was an assignment (also for Dr. Ashwani Kumar) to review a dissertation written by a recent graduate of the PhD Educational Studies program. I chose the work of Kesa Munroe-Anderson. Her dissertation title was ‘Set Our Spirits Free: Exploring the Role of Spirituality as an Anti-Oppressive Agent in the Formal Education of African Nova Scotian Learner.’ I submitted the paper on November 13th, 2020.
I chose this dissertation partly because of work I had been doing with iMOVe (In My Own Voice) Arts Association which is a black-led organization based in Halifax that looks to help BIPOC people who have been incarcerated or are incarcerated to re-integrate into community and/or help youth-at-risk avoid conflict with the justice system. I wanted to learn more about the role of spirituality in African Nova Scotian communities. This was something I was particularly interested in because of my connection as a friend with both Sobaz Benjamin, founder and Executive Director of iMOVe, and his wife Lillian Loppie. I have been friends with both for many years. Both Sobaz and I have a background in the film and television industry, and our children are about the same age.
Years ago, I had also spent time with Lillian going to New Beginnings Church which described itself as a ‘christ-centered, spirit directed, multi-cultural, contemporary church’ located in Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia. It does not specifically describe itself as being in the tradition of a Baptist church, but certainly my experiences of it with Lillian and Sobaz reminded me of other baptist churches I’d visited.
Some of the key areas of scholarly literature and theory Munroe-Anderson’s dissertation drew on included afri-centricity, postcolonial and anti-colonial theories as well as critical race theory. Because of the work I was doing with Sobaz, and the recent murder of George Floyd, I felt it was critical for me to learn more about African Nova Scotian culture and history. While Munroe-Anderson is from the Caribbean, not Nova Scotia (like Sobaz), she is also married to an African Nova Scotian and her children are African Nova Scotian (like Sobaz).
I think some of the most powerful learnings for me came from reviewing Munroe-Anderson's dissertation. Not just because I was learning more about how important a 'spiritual' sense of being is to afri-centric cultures, but it opened my mind again to this question of 'what is truth.' In addition to learning more about the inspiration for Dr. Kumar's work being Jiddu Krishnamurti from India, I also learned a lot from indigenous classmates in my cohort and other guests with a wide range of perspectives that visited us online in classes. It was the beginning of a strong interest in other perspectives, other ways of being and other ways of knowing beyond my own 'educational training and culturalization ' in western, euro-centric ways of being and knowing. For another assignment for Dr. Kumar, I continued to explore the role of spirituality as it might relate to education but also how different ontological and epistemological perspectives could relate to community development and social movement learning.
Image Source: Wix Photo Library
5. Future of Work,
After I finished the PhD courses I was required to take, I became interested in the nature of the ‘Future of Work’ and signed up for a short course on this topic through the Coady Institute. I was interested in this topic because of all the changes happening with the nature of work during the pandemic and how it related to different populations (ie. remote work versus work that had to be done in person, and how racism was being identified as a factor in who was able to stay home and work safely, and those who because of the nature of their work, were at higher risk for becoming ill). I was also interested in this topic related to how my life, especially my ability to participate in mainstream 'paid' work, was affected by my mental illness.
As part of the course work, I was asked to create a learning opportunity for my fellow students related to policy development in the area of the ‘future of work.’ I developed a presentation based on work related to this topic I was already doing with iMOVe.
iMOVe does a lot of work with marginalized and racialized people who have been incarcerated, are incarcerated or at risk of coming into conflict with the law. One of their goals is to help people to develop skills to make a decent living with meaningful work. They do this by introducing people to work in the film / television industry in Nova Scotia, and offering training in the skills required to participate in this industry.
The work iMOVe was doing was very interesting to me because it was focusing on ‘future of work’ goals like teamwork and creativity, and skills that could be learned ‘experientially.’ Higher education is not important for this industry. Many people working in it start somewhere low on the totem pole and then work their way up. It is also an industry that requires a lot of the ‘future of work’ skills that we had been learning about in the Coady course related to teamwork, collaboration, conflict management and other skills related to working closely with other human beings (often referred to as 'soft' skills, but I prefer to think of them as 'human' skills).
In my assignment for the end of the course then, I challenged my classmates to see themselves as their country’s Special Advisor on the Future of Work and Workers. I asked them what advice and key recommendations they would give their governments at various levels, then I shared with them some of the ideas behind the approach to training people for the ‘future of work’ that iMOVe was using. I then asked them at the end of my presentation to reflect on the following questions:
How are we going to redefine what ‘work' is all about?
How are we going to use technology to preserve our world (environmentally speaking), and make our world better?
How are we going to address historic and current social and economic inequities?
What kind of ‘learning systems’ do we really need to support all this?
How do we include everyone?
I suggested to my classmates that we inquire together (in the spirit of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who I had also been talking about in class based on my learnings with Dr. Kumar), and to also reflect on some fundamental assumptions and cornerstones of our current systems including how we think about ‘work,’ what the purpose of ‘education’ is, and what it means to not just exist but to ‘flourish’ as a people and a society. I then finished my presentation by suggesting many of the strategies iMOVe uses already could help us to design better social and economic systems, and reverse increases in inequity, trauma and harm.
I enjoyed this course, but I was frustrated because a lot of it seemed to focus on the potential impact of various technological changes on the future of work. In the assignment I did I was able to bring many of the questions I was wondering about to the front and centre; especially those about how we deal with historic and current inequities in our economic systems (or don't really).
I have felt for quite awhile since I starting working with Sobaz that the work he is doing through iMOVe needed to be documented and shared more with others. This assignment was one of the first times I was able to do that. As I continued in my PhD journey I looked for other times I could practice being an 'ally' and an 'advocate' for the value of the work Sobaz was doing, and learn more about what being an ally and advocate means.
As I learned more about my friend and his work (over many, many years), I felt Sobaz's perspective, experience and tremendous empathy and compassion was something more people needed to learn about.
I feel like the work I did in this assignment for the Coady Institute on the Future of Work helped me to continue to think about questions related to inclusion / exclusion and economic development that were initially informed mainly by my own lived experience with mental illness, but then also in learning more about the experiences of others like Sobaz and the people he worked with within these contexts as well.
Image Sources (top to bottom): Wix Photo Library
6. Co-op Conversation Guidebook, iMOVe
Among the principles that I shared with my classmates in the Coady course, one of the key ones I then went on to focus on more was this idea of ‘mutual self-help’ that is at the core of the co-op movement. About the same time I was doing the course at Coady, I was also facilitating a partnership between iMOVe and the Co-operative Enterprise Council of New Brunswick (CECNB) as part of a federally-funded youth program called YPI (Youth Partnership Initiative). This was also part of the work of the first Mitacs grant I secured to work with CECNB.
While this Mitacs project didn’t last long (more on this later), part of what came out of it was an opportunity for iMOVe founder and Executive Director, Sobaz Benjamin, and an iMOVe program participant to participate in some learning CECNB was offering about co-ops. What stood out for me about this experience (which I also sat in on) was how pre-dominantly white and euro-centric the learning experience was, and how it was not welcoming for Sobaz or the program participant that tried out the program about co-ops that CECNB was offering. I asked Sobaz about this after the experience. This led me to wonder what a more ‘welcoming’ and ‘culturally-appropriate or relevant’ learning experience might look like for iMOVe participants to be able to participate in learning related to the co-op model as a tool for change in communities.
This led to securing funding from the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage and the Catherine Donnelly Foundation to develop a program that would be more welcoming and inclusive for BIPOC people to be able to learn about co-ops and how they could be used to help solve problems in marginalized and racialized communities. The result was a Co-op Conversation Guidebook that is now available for free online on iMOVe’s website.
The guidebook was designed for anyone in community to be able to use it, and to showcase BIPOC people and stories of BIPOC co-ops. It was co-designed with input from me, a young self-identified BIPOC man iMOVe was able to hire as a Project Coordinator on a CreateAction grant from the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet), and with input from iMOVe program participants.
Over 70 resources about co-ops were reviewed from a BIPOC lens (by a BIPOC person) to then be able to figure out which ones were the best to be used in the guidebook, and what topics it would be of most interest for a BIPOC audience and for the guidebook to focus on. Once people identified changes they would like to see in their community, then the guidebook introduced them to the flexibility of the co-op model to solve a range of problems or aspirations in community, and how several other BIPOC communities had used the model to do just that.
Co-creating this guidebook was a strong learning experience for me. I was working, as a middle age white woman from a eurocentric background, for the first time with a young man who identified as BIPOC. A critical part of the learning on this project was to create a safe space for both of us to be able to be open and honest with each other. To do that, I shared about my background and experience with mental illness, and specifically said I wanted to know if I did anything that was harmful in any way to the young person I was working with. Setting this tone of openness is I think one of the things I am most proud of in this project.
There were some tense moments of learning for both of us in the beginning, but then as I learned more about the young person working on the project I also came to appreciate his particular perspective on the work with iMOVe and his experience as a facilitator. He also had his own business teaching people about kayaking, and was passionate about getting more BIPOC people outdoors. He also had experience as a youth being a participant in iMOVe’s programs. He gave iMOVe a lot of credit for him being where he is today. On a side note, when this young person started working on this project he didn’t know anything about co-ops. Now, he is working with a co-op organization to introduce the co-op model to more young people.
I also did a podcast for Co-operatives First about the creation of the guidebook, and the importance of the co-op community supporting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion work more.
Image Sources (top to bottom): Screen Shots, iMOVe Website (https://www.inmyownvoice.ca/)