Since the age of four Joshua Cochrane, 11, has used his musical talents to raise over $300,000 for autism awareness. He has worked to share his personal journey with autism in Canada and abroad. On Friday, he and six other community leaders and groups were presented awards for making a difference.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission awards took place at the Spatz Theatre at Citadel High School. Nova Scotian educators, leaders, and activists, who are working to promote equality and understanding, were recognized. The youngest winner, Cochrane, was presented with the Youth Award by Premier Stephen McNeil.
“It means a lot,” said Cochrane. “I’m very honoured to get the award.”
“Everyone has the ability to choose kindness,” he said in his acceptance speech. “It has been proven that those who choose kindness and do good for others have lower blood pressure and are generally healthier and happier.”
The speech received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Other awards were presented to Angela Simmons, a legal expert on the Land Titles Clarification Act, and organizations Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace, Women’s Wellness Within, and Bill 59 Community Alliance.
Nicole Doria was a recipient of the Dr. Burnley Allan (Rocky) Jones Individual Award for her work with Indigenous peoples in Nova Scotia and victims of sexualized violence.
“I think it’s important for events like this to recognize that even though there is so much work to be done, we’ve come a long, long way,” she said.
“It was a very positive vibe today and I think that’s inspiring for everyone.”
Another Dr. Burnley Allan (Rocky) Jones Individual Award was given posthumously to Wade Smith, former principal of Citadel High. Smith died in June and the award was accepted on his behalf by his older brother Sgt. Craig Smith.
“To have the honour bestowed upon him here I think would’ve been special,” said Smith. “He just did what he thought he had to do. It was about giving back to people and giving back to the community and, in particular, the youth. And so I’m sure he’d be happy to be recognized in that way, but humbled at the same time.”
Short videos shown throughout the ceremony touched on the themes of Mi’kmaq rights, accessibility, immigration, race and gender equality.
Floria Aghdamimehr, co-chair of Partners for Human Rights, said as an organizer she was thrilled with how the morning proceeded.
“It was about all the award winners and their wonderful work because without them it wouldn’t be the event that it is,” she said.
Friday’s ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. The theme for this year was “learning from our past, building for our future.”
“The building for our future really begins with us working together to make change happen,” said Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, one of the speakers.
Musician and educator Cyndi Cain performed a song about Viola Desmond that the crowd danced and clapped to. Youth who participated in the 50th Anniversary Human Rights Art initiative were also recognized. Their artwork is currently on display at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.