While sharing her life experiences Tuesday, Mayann Francis called on the importance of seeking education to bring about social change.
The former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia gave a lecture to a packed room at the Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building at Dalhousie University.
“My upbringing in Whitney Pier and the experiences of my life have taught me to let education, formal or informal, be your best friend,” said Francis.
Francis grew up in Cape Breton. Learning about the suffering of black people in slavery had a profound effect on her.
“We risked our lives to read and write because we knew even then (in slavery) that the power of education was something we wanted,” she said.
“It is their (slaves) strength, courage, ambition and hope for the future that I embrace.”
The legacy of slavery drove her to pursue education in law, sociology, theology, X-ray technology and human rights.
She said all of these accomplishments led her to become the province’s first African Nova Scotian lieutenant governor — the highlight of her public service. She held the position from 2006 to 2012.
“Being an agent of change and a black woman, responsible for change presented its own challenges which I had to manage,” said Francis.
Some of these challenges were rooted in stereotypes of black women as being too loud and pushy.
“Reactions to us as black women are rooted in conscious and unconscious stereotypes that can be traced back to the days of slavery,” she said.
“And once we are labeled our career aspirations might become stalled.”
Francis was the first woman to be appointed provincial ombudsman. She was the director and CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission before becoming lieutenant governor.
She is currently the first Distinguished Public Service Fellow in Dalhousie’s school of public administration.
Francis hopes that more and more black men and women get to hold positions in the public sector and help change the impact of slavery on Canadian society.
“Being a black manager in a diverse workforce or in an all-white workforce requires intelligence, a solid education and work experience,” she said.
Bob Moody, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie and one of the organizers of the event, said “It is fair to say across Canada, the public service in Nova Scotia most often doesn’t represent culturally and diversity-wise who we serve.
“I want our students to understand from her story how incredibly important it is to be a diverse public servant, serving the diverse population we have,” he said.
One of the attendees was Jamie Parris, a student who’s interested in exploring public administration.
“It is so inspirational seeing someone from my hometown do so many amazing things,” she said.
“It sets an example for me.”