Loyalists Connection podcast

Alumni duo shed light on African Nova Scotian history

The Loyalists Connection podcast is helping African Nova Scotian history reach new audiences.

By Renée Hartleib

Dr. Kirrily Freeman (left) and students from the new Public Humanities and Heritage major with Shawn Smith BComm’05 and Laurice Downey BComm’06 (center)

Growing up, Shawn Smith BComm’05 and Laurice Downey BComm’06, both spent time with family in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. But they didn’t forge a bond until they got to know each other at Saint Mary’s. It turns out they had a lot in common. Both were student-athletes (Shawn basketball and Laurice football), both were taking business courses, and both enjoyed the occasional Thursday night at the Gorsebrook Lounge.

After they graduated, their career paths diverged. Laurice chose to work in human resources in the oil and gas fields of Alberta. At the same time, Shawn progressed through marketing and recruitment positions. Returning to Saint Mary’s in 2011 for a human resources certificate, Shawn now holds the role of Senior Advisor for Black Nova Scotian Initiatives at the Nova Scotia Community College.

Throughout all this time, the two stayed in touch and talked for years about potential business ventures. Fast forward to 2020, when George Floyd was killed. “It was the push we needed,” says Shawn. “We chose to do something that we actually had control over, which would positively impact our community.”

That something was the creation of The Loyalists Connection Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Podbean. The podcast is a deep dive into historic African Nova Scotian settlements and the long-neglected story of anti-black racism in Canada.

Through personal storytelling and interviews with guests, the duo, with help from local Black History scholar and researcher Graham Nickerson, are shedding light on some of the 52 Black communities in Nova Scotia. They are also making plain the historic and modern systemic racism these communities, including Beechville, Yarmouth, Whitney Pier, and North Preston, have faced.

“If we look at traditional mediums and how our history has been portrayed, or not portrayed, there is a lot of missing or inaccurate information,” says Shawn. “The podcast allows us to document the African Nova Scotian lived experience by capturing voices and stories in a way that is authentic and impactful. And then it also allows us to share our rich 400-year-old history with the general public so it’s no longer hidden.”

This dual purpose is resonating with podcast listeners worldwide. People from diverse backgrounds are tuning in from not only Canada but also the United States, West Africa, Germany and France.

Laurice and Shawn themselves are also feeling the impact. “We are absolutely learning as we go,” says Laurice. “Our history has often not been included in mainstream accounts, so there’s a lot of information we’ve never heard before. I pick up something new in every single conversation we have on the show.”

The other thing they are learning about is technology. It’s been important for both men to be hands-on and to understand all aspects of the production process. Podcast self-production has meant a bit of a learning curve, eased with help from Dr. Kirrily Freeman, a History Professor and the Director of Outreach and Experiential Learning in the Faculty of Arts at Saint Mary’s. Three of her students have been helping to accelerate the production process, with season two nearly mastered and ready to release.

“We are continuing to find our voices and perfect our craft, all the while enjoying being creative and feeling like we’ve accomplished something,” says Laurice. “We’re applying the skills we learned through our education, just in a different way. It’s really rewarding.”

When they reflect on their education at Saint Mary’s, both vividly remember a labour relations class where the students had to do a collective bargaining exercise. “I’ve never forgotten that course. It taught me a lot about how I wanted to conduct myself out in the world,” says Shawn. “Having grace in difficult situations and expressing compassion and understanding when dealing with others is so important.”

Both also have unforgettable memories of being student-athletes. The Huskies football team won the Vanier Cup in Laurice’s first year, and Shawn went to the nationals in basketball three years running. “Having those experiences at Saint Mary’s shaped who we are and where we are today,” says Laurice.

Where they are today is following their hearts in preserving the African Nova Scotian and Black experience for the generations to come. They also passionately advocate for a change in how these communities are perceived.

To that end, the pair have created the Loyalists Connections Creative Society with the aim to build self-esteem and identity within Black communities. They do this by offering space and helping to give voice to those who have been historically overlooked.

They are also pushing forward a different story—one that flies in the face of racist narratives. “Our ancestors were historically resourceful and entrepreneurial,” says Shawn. “That’s the spirit we want to re-ignite in present-day members of these communities.”

Follow The Loyalist Connections Podcast on Instagram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *