Black in Halifax: Quentrel Provo won't stop standing up for his community
The anti-violence advocate opens up about the past few years and everyone being better neighbours.
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Quentrel Provo knows he was standing out in this crowd.
The anti-violence advocate was there when Mayor Mike Savage launched his re-election campaign on Theodore Tugboat last year. Provo was an invited guest alongside other local leaders — mostly white, of course.
The re-elected Savage put his arm around the young man on a sunny summer’s day.
It’s a strong friendship forged over years, even before Savage became mayor in 2012. But Provo thought hard about Savage’s request to be there that day, concerned the request was part photo op, a political manoeuvre even, to have someone there who is Black.
“Hard,” he said. “Knowing Mike, and being a friend of Mike outside of him being the mayor, it was different.”
He trusts Savage and was happy to do it. Few people would get the same consideration.
“I know how people are,” he said in a sit-down interview with Metro, flashing a bright, confident smile. “If I haven’t seen you in six months, or talked to you, and you come and ask ‘Can I get a picture with you?’ Nah, that’s a photo op. I’m not trying to be used.”
Instead, Provo wants to use his influence to plead with the HRM community to be better neighbours.
That means being the face of troubling issues and bearing the community’s painful stories. Violence has deeply affected the Black community, and his activism continues to bring attention to the daily grief Black Haligonians face: police harassment, substandard education, even housing.
Provo hears about the issue of street checks, for example, and it evokes visceral memories of a similar experience he went through as a youth pastor. He was driving a Ford Mustang while heading to North Preston in 2010.
“The police officer was going down the highway. He’d seen me driving, turned around, followed me, didn’t put on his lights,” he recalled.
The policeman thought Provo’s Ford Mustang matched the make of a suspicious car in the area. Provo was embarrassed, even angry. He still hasn’t forgotten the constable’s face.
He realized “he had pulled me over a few times, and really I wasn’t getting tickets. But I was a young Black man driving a sports car,” said Provo.
“I can’t work?” Provo remembered telling the officer in frustration when he was asked what he was doing.
But Provo knows how to channel bad experiences into productive work. Inspired by the sudden death of his cousin Kaylin Diggs in 2012, his Stop the Violence marches have been growing each year. This year saw the biggest crowds yet: about 800.
Today, he speaks to schools and holds events to keep the HRM community engaged. But, even with the broad support he gets, Provo still experiences threats and slander from time to time — especially from anonymous social-media accounts and the like.
“I had people saying that we don’t have a gun problem in Nova Scotia, (that) we have a Black problem,” he said, recalling an extreme example. “If you get rid of all the Black people, basically that will stop the Black problem.”
Provo knows the layers of issues at hand in Nova Scotia — the various forms of racism and discrimination, the segregation. But he has seen small, incremental change in attitudes and actions. He’s seeing a community reach out to each other.
Even in the face of constant personal threats, Provo is sure he’s doing something right.
“When I see the negativity, it means I’m doing something good. And they don’t like it,” said Provo. "I look at it; it doesn’t bring me down.
“And I continue to move forward.”
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.