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Great Idea: When it’s Time to “Man Up”

Community Advocacy and Nova Scotia’s 902 Man Up

When Marcus James and Peter Campbell noticed a spike in the Halifax murder rate – and the fact that a third of the victims were men of colour – they knew it was time to “man up.” Enough was enough. It was time to get serious about building community pride and helping people feel more connected.

This is how 902 Man Up was born. James, a community advocate working for the Halifax North Memorial Public Library, put his expertise to work with the help of Campbell. They felt that as older generation African Nova Scotians they had an obligation to help the younger generation – the one’s that seemed to be so lost and, in some cases, were losing their lives to violence. James says, “I got tired of attending funerals of young men. Talking about it and seeing people hurt, I think challenged me to say, ‘Okay, what can I do?’” So, in 2016, James and Campbell decided to put themselves at the forefront of something that would bring a sense of purpose to those who needed it most. In time, and with the help of likeminded allies, they came up with a name: 902 Man Up. The “902” was picked because it is one of the telephone area codes for Nova Scotia.

902 Man Up is made up of over 100 volunteers who advocate for the black community in and around Halifax with a focus on mentorship for young black men. If you were to try to come up with a specific description of what the organization does you’d be hard pressed to find one. 902 Man Up is organic – responding to the needs of the individuals and groups that approach them for help. Whether they are dealing with a teenager trying to find his way, a single mother at a loss over how she is going to feed her children or a man who has recently left incarceration, 902 Man Up refuses to get stuck on policies, directives and the red tape that can often bog down a fledgling organization. Instead they take a “here’s what needs to be done” approach that caters to the specific needs of those who need help. Working independently and without the aid of government funding, 902 Man Up seeks to provide community members with what they need, when they need it. According to James, “We take it upon ourselves to say…what is it [that] we can do to change the narrative and not rely on outside sources.” Often the aid needed is derived from within the organization. At other times, 902 Man Up volunteers will connect people with local agencies. However, more than anything, the volunteers are there to provide a listening ear to those who are struggling to get their life on track.

This is where the story gets very personal. Corey Wright spent two stints in prison for a total of nine years. It was the second stay in prison that changed him. He knew that he needed to take a different route. However, finding help wasn’t easy. Wright explains, “There are programs that help you do things, but they aren’t for the incarcerated. Then there’s programs for the incarcerated that don’t help regular people.” Wright felt trapped between two worlds.

Enter his uncle, none other than Marcus James, mentor and community advocate – and co-founder of 902 Man Up. Wright credits James and 902 Man Up with being the ones who listened to him, advised him and pointed him in the right direction. It was the fact that a group of people were all interested in helping him that made the difference. According to Wright, “When you have a collective saying something, it hits harder. You realize we’re all for the same goal, the same struggle…” Now Wright is an active and influential volunteer within the agency.

Peter Campbell says, “We created 902 Man Up to showcase the good things that are happening in our community.” They now co-sponsor cultural events, organize fundraisers, run back to school drives for students who need school supplies and recently started a scholarship fund for black students attending St. Mary’s University. They have made 902 Man Up one of the “go-to” agencies when it comes to highlighting community success and pride.

902 Man Up also serves as a powerful voice for African Nova Scotians. When the province announced plans to place an overdose prevention site in a primarily black community, 902 Man Up stepped in and demanded consultation before the decision was finalized. James said the site was being thrown into the community without any conversation or dialogue. While 902 Man Up does not oppose overdose prevention sites, they do oppose arbitrarily picking a neighbourhood and telling those who live there to grin in bare it. The location of the site is now being reconsidered by local authorities. The organization is also actively seeking the participation of African Nova Scotians in the Cogswell Redevelopment Project – a $900 million infrastructure plan. 902 Man Up is arguing that African Nova Scotians suffer from economic disparity when compared with other groups. With 39 percent of African Nova Scotians living in poverty, and an unemployment rate of 16 percent (nearly twice the provincial unemployment rate), 902 Man Up maintains that it’s time to spread the wealth and include the black community in the process – both through consultation and jobs – that starts to level the playing field with white Nova Scotians.

It’s clear to see that 902 Man Up is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Nova Scotia. The organization’s leadership continues to build community pride and stand up for those who need help. They are also not afraid of going toe-to-toe with developers and local governments when the needs of the community are being either ignored or overlooked. This is why many Nova Scotians believe that 902 Man Up is here to stay.

By Sean Dolan

Sources:
English, Jill. (Sept. 2018). “How 902 Man Up is facing down violence in Halifax.” CBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/national-902-Man Up-profile-halifax-1.4837436.
Millar, Nzingha. (June 2017). “902 Man Up finds healing within.” The Coast. Retrieved from: https://www.thecoast.ca/RealityBites/archives/2017/06/23/902-man-up-finds-healing-within.

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