The power of one
Sylvia Hamilton. Illustration: James Bentley
When Lindsay Ruck was a kid, the books at school didn’t show people like her. Now, she’s sharing the inspiring stories of Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians
n elementary school, Lindsay Ruck couldn’t give a definition of racism, but she knew she was different.
She came from a biracial family: her mother white and father Black. In the minority in her class, she was often subjected to crude comments about her skin.
“Growing up, it was always ‘you’re not Black enough, or you are not white enough,'” Ruck says. “You could never please someone so that feeling of other, even ticking a box ‘other’ on some form … there’s always that judgment of not being on that one side or the other.”
And it takes a toll. “Systemic racism is alive and well, so there’s always comments or people wanting to touch my hair or asking me things that make you feel like you’re not necessarily human,” she explains. It can be very uncomfortable and weird. I am not void of that feeling of racism and discrimination and that feeling of being different.”
While she learned about Black figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, she never had the opportunity to learn about Black Atlantic Canadians. However, her grandfather, the late Calvin Woodrow Ruck, educated her on the No. 2 Black Construction Battalion. (Learn more about the battalion in this 2016 Halifax Magazine story.)
Armed with that knowledge, Ruck pitched a book for kids about the trailblazing Black First World War soldiers. As she talked with Nimbus Publishing, the idea grew to Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians, an illustrated children’s book and Ruck’s third title.
The book covers over 50 people who played an important part in history, inspiring stories of achievement, courage, and perseverance.
“While their stories are very different, there’s an underlying theme, and that is overcoming, that is beating the odds, standing up and saying ‘we’re not a fan of the status quo, we’re going to do something about it,” the author says. “When you look back and look at what they’ve done, and we are where we are today because of these individuals both past and present, there are still some that are still living and doing amazing things. It’s a great lesson for young and old to see the fight people have in themselves and knowing that ‘this isn’t right and I am going to fight this.'”
Paring down the number of profiles in this collection was hard. Ruck looked for connections between the subjects, guided by the information available and those stories her grandfather told her.
However, there were a pair of “powerhouse” women she felt had to be included. Dartmouth poet Maxine Tynes inspired Ruck to begin her writing journey. When she was seven years old, Ruck recalls her mother, a retired school teacher, taking her and her sister to the library at Alderney Landing for one of Tynes’s readings.
“My mother was determined for me to have as many experiences, experience different cultures, and different learning experiences,” Ruck says. “I went, and I didn’t know who Maxine Tynes was at that time. I was sitting there, but then Maxine stood up, and she just radiated beauty, and then she started to read. I was transfixed and so touched by how she took these different words, strung them together, and everything was just so beautiful. Immediately, I went home and started filling my notebooks.”
Another woman that inspired Ruck during her journalism studies at Carleton University was Carrie Best. Along with her son Calvert, Best launched The Clarion in 1946, one of the first Nova Scotian newspapers, and one of Canada’s first Black-owned media outlets. She also hosted a radio show called The Quiet Corner.
“She used it to advocate for things like social justice, and that included the details of the Viola Desmond trial,” Ruck says. “She used it as her platform to share the important things that she felt the Black community needed to know about. I love that she found her niche in what she was good at … but used it for good.”
While they have never met, Ruck was confident that Montreal illustrator James Bentley could capture the book’s artistic vision. Bentley remembered his experiences reading books as a kid, drawn into the illustrations.
“This is such a real honour to do a great, important book like this,” he says. “It was an opportunity to do something positive. My thought process was keeping it simple. It started with the cover. I wanted to give it some glamour and make the illustrations very rich as possible and appealing … I wanted to try giving each portrait an element of what the person was about and playing with imagery to explain who that person was.”
Some of those elements included a movie theatre with Viola Desmond and a pair of doves for peace activist Quentrel Provo.
Bentley leaned on his experiences attending art school in Montreal.
“It was so nice because every single nationality was there,” he says. “I was known as the white guy in my class. I was pretty aware of that at the time, but it was so much fun, and I was so grateful for it. It was rich, and it was very happy. It was a very positive experience. To be around other nationalities, you have so much more in your life; you get to experience everyone else’s perspective. The understanding of other cultures makes a big difference.”
The pandemic twice delayed the book’s release, but the author says now is the right time: during African Heritage Month, as the Black Lives Matter movement continues trying to break down systemic racism.
“No matter what, it will be relevant, especially right now,” she says. “That is something we need to key in on and take advantage of the ears that we do have listening right now. We have solid people in here with evidence of amazing people doing amazing things who are minorities who rose up despite systemic racism, and despite discrimination and change, not just Black history now they change the history of Canada.”
Ruck hopes readers will take three things from the book: inspiration, education, and conversation.
“I want it to inspire young and old,” she says. “I think of [American vice-president] Kamala Harris, seeing all those girls wearing their Converses and their suits … Seeing someone that looks like you do something amazing, it can be so inspiring … There are so many stories in here about the power of one, and I want people to feel that when they read the book. When it comes to education, I didn’t have something like this at school. I wasn’t learning about them.”
Ruck wants her book to begin peoples’ education. ” This is just a jumping-off point,” she says, “to get the conversation going and talk about racism and being comfortable about it.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.