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Personal stories key to sharing experiences about racism and bias

Sergeant Craig Smith is the driving force behind the African Canadian Experience Workshop, a course that aims to have open conversations about racism. Credit: RCMP


Craig Smith, a sergeant in Nova Scotia's Lower Sackville Detachment, is pursuing what he calls his life's work: helping RCMP employees gain the awareness, knowledge, and skills to support an environment that's inclusive and free of discrimination.

He's the driving force behind the five-day African Canadian Experience Workshop, which highlights the current reality for Black Canadians dealing with systemic racism, bias, and privilege. Smith says using personal stories and learning scenarios adds impact to the material for participants. "I'm really motivated to tell stories that peel back the covers," he says. "Without that, there isn't healing."

Smith first joined the RCMP in 1996, at age 35. Now, at 61, he is also an author, historian, and former president of the Black Cultural Society for Nova Scotia. His tireless efforts to share his experiences with the RCMP have led to "a bigger impact than we ever thought possible," he admits. "The organization is standing up and listening."

The initiative began in 2008 as a day-long workshop developed in Smith's spare time. His work has now grown into a full-time role building greater understanding across the organization, including at the RCMP's training academy. In 2017, Smith worked with a group of four African-Canadian employees, who transformed the one-day course into a five-day workshop.

"These can be tough, emotionally draining conversations because the issues are complex, the pain is real, and we're willing to be vulnerable," he adds. "Ultimately, we're trying to create an atmosphere that's comfortable enough for workshop participants to feel uncomfortable."

Looking ahead, Smith says the next big milestone will be achieved when the RCMP stops counting "firsts" for racialized and marginalized groups within the organization. To get there, he believes that leaders at all levels will have to be proactive and intentional about making further progress on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

"Race relations is a continuum," he observes. "The moment you start to pat yourself on the back or think that 'we've made it,' you're already sliding backwards."

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