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Black in Halifax: Church encourages Black members to speak about racism, injustice

New Beginnings in Cherrybrook has fostered a multicultural congregation where all members hear the stories of others.

New Beginnings Minister Matthew Thomas, who says he believes that dealing with issues of faith and issues of racism, oppression and injustice for Black Haligonians are one in the same.

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New Beginnings Minister Matthew Thomas, who says he believes that dealing with issues of faith and issues of racism, oppression and injustice for Black Haligonians are one in the same.

Bible study gets pretty spirited at New Beginnings Ministries.

Black church members are not shy to air their experiences with racism and discrimination as part of weekly conversation. But it can get downright heated, even scrappy.

“It’s not just a church for East Preston,” says Minister Matthew Thomas, who believes that dealing with issues of faith and issues of racism, oppression and injustice for Black Haligonians are one in the same.

“When we talk about being pro-Black, that doesn’t mean we’re anti-white. We’ve had to have that conversation in Bible study,” said Thomas. “We don’t ignore that; we just work through it. We’re family: you don’t always agree, but you don’t say, ‘I’m not going to be family anymore.’”

With the guidance of senior minister Kirby Spivey, New Beginnings in Cherrybrook, N.S. has fostered a multicultural congregation, with many cultures and backgrounds (including white people) hearing about the stories of others.

The church has, in some cases, been the first place for non-Black people to learn about the community’s plights.

“The Black experience is always compounded because you have to deal with the institutional aspect of racism and discrimination,” says 31-year-old Thomas. “There’s this pressure, this reality where you’re just trying to be heard and be valued as a citizen.”

Faith remains extremely important to many Haligonians, white and Black, young and old. In the 2011 census, two out of three Haligonians identified as Christian. But times are changing, and as many younger Haligonians are becoming indifferent, so the church has to change with them.

Sitting down with the pastor in Dartmouth, he explains that encouraging the community to speak out is a way to renew that relationship with God — to help them find answers or be at peace.

They speak out about street checks, housing, history. Lately, Thomas has heard from many students and parents, who attend Graham Creighton Junior High, about their frustrations with Individual Program Plans in the school.

The program is, they argue, not preparing students for post-secondary education.

“They get to trying to apply for university and they can’t because not all of their courses were university prep courses,” says Thomas. “And now we have uneducated youth who feel like the system is not encouraging them, and they turn to the streets.”

And it goes on. But the church is here for them.

This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that New Beginnings is located in Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia.

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