Acting for change
By Sarah Sawler | Photos: Danny Abriel
A self-described “shy kind of guy,” Jason (JJ) Wilson (BA’17, BSW’20) understands the role purpose plays in empowering people to use their voice. For Wilson, his purpose revealed itself when he was invited to speak to Black high school students about his university experiences.
“Whether they’re looking at their teachers, or different people in various professions, a lot of Black youth don’t see themselves represented—and that can lead them to believe that they can’t do certain things,” says Wilson. “It’s important for them to know that they can pretty much do whatever they want to do, as long as they put in the time and effort.”
Over the past couple of years, the education system has become a significant area of focus for Wilson. He’s particularly interested in the school-to-prison pipeline (SPP), a system of inequity and inequalities that result in a disproportionate number of young Black people being incarcerated.
“They’re pushed through school and their education isn’t taken as seriously as it should be,” Wilson explains. “It can start with stereotyping. A teacher might say, ‘Oh this kid isn’t going to amount to much,’ and it snowballs until they graduate—but because they didn’t receive the support they needed, they’re reading at really low levels and struggle to get a typical job. Then they may have to resort to other means.”
Wilson’s already making strides towards his goal of creating change by pursuing a Masters in Social Work and working as an intern at The People’s Counselling Clinic, where he provides supervised, pro-bono mental health clinic services to historically underserved groups. While his current clientele includes people of all backgrounds, Wilson sees an important opportunity to support people who are heavily oppressed by systemic and institutional racism.
“I don’t think a lot of Black people are willing to go to a white clinician and talk about the issues that they’re facing,” he says. “You have to be vulnerable, and the fact that I’m Black helps build rapport before we even get started. I’ve seen a lot of unaddressed mental health issues in people I know, and it’s prevalent in Black communities. So being able to unlock a way of dealing with that is important. If it does get addressed, especially in Nova Scotia where there are large Black communities, it’s going to be really beneficial for everyone involved.”
First, however, Wilson says society needs to move beyond simple awareness. “The next step is actually acting and putting things into practice,” says Wilson. “Whether that’s rewriting policies or making things more equitable as a whole. All the policies now are written to benefit a certain group of people and that’s why we see the dominance of groups of people in society. If we’re able to change that, we’ll see a shift.”
For Wilson, African Heritage Month is an example of a strong awareness campaign that could be harnessed for greater impact within the school systems. Rather than focusing solely on commonly recognized public figures like Martin Luther King, or the history of enslavement, Wilson suggests incorporating lessons on the Black kings and queens of Africa.
“When that’s all these youth see of themselves in their education, and it’s only once a year, obviously that’s detrimental,” says Wilson. “African Heritage Month is definitely good, but we can expand on what it’s being used for right now, and begin incorporating Black history curriculum year-round, instead of just this one month—which also happens to be the shortest month of the year.”