By Richard Bell
Politics is nothing new to North Preston native Archy Beals, reaching back to his days in the Dalhousie Student Union. “I’ve always been involved with various community organizations,” Beals said in a phone interview. “It’s a natural fit for me.”
Beals said that becoming an MLA would be only the third job he’s held in his life. “My first job was with the Black Women’s Advisory Committee, working with parents and students on getting better education for black students,” Beals said. “I was there for two years, and then I moved to Nova Scotia Community College. I’ve been the Student Services Advisor/African-Canadian Support for the past 26 years.”
Given his deep immersion in developing and delivering culturally relevant education for African Nova Scotians, Beals’ decision in the fall of 2016 to run for African Nova Scotian Representative on the Halifax Regional School Board was no surprise. Beals won, only to lose his seat a year-and-a-half later when the Liberals decided to centralize their power over the province’s schools by shutting down all regional school boards in 2018.
“Eliminating the regional school boards was the wrong decision,” Beals said. “They lost the voice of the community.” Later in 201, Beals was appointed to a 2-year term on the Provincial Advisory Board on Education, where he is now serving his 2nd term.
Beals played a major role in the highly-praised community-based effort against Covid-19. He chaired the Preston Township Emergency Response Team, which won a 2020 Human Rights Award from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
“There was a group of young people who were really concerned about the virus as the number of cases in the community took off,” Beals said. “Starting with a meeting in March of 2020, people came together, looking at how to provide good information in culturally relevant ways that the community could understand and appreciate.”
The group got mobile sites set up in North and East Preston, and Cherry Brook/Lake Loon, plus a mobile testing unit that went door-to-door. Members of the community staffed these testing units.
The group also coordinated donations of food boxes, medical supplies, PPE, cleaning supplies, and pamphlets on staying safe. “We even got technology for seniors, tablets so seniors who weren’t able to have family visits could stay in touch,” Beals said.
The Human Rights Commission cited the Team “for their community-led volunteer work in response to the need for culturally relevant COVID-related assistance during the early months of the pandemic. Their quick response helped to identify and address gaps in services in the Preston are, preventing potentially adverse outcomes. Their culturally responsive approach demonstrated perfectly the collaboration and cooperation required to address an ever-developing complex crisis situation in a marginalized and racialized community.”
Beals considered running for MLA carefully. “I thought about it, and prayed about it, talked with my supporters, and my wife and family. I strong believe that I have something to offer to the community, that I’ve got a lot more to give.”
Beals cited four issues at the top of his list: youth mental health, education, dignity for seniors, and the final resolution of long-standing land ownership across the whole riding. Beals had a daughter who died at 23 after suffering from mental health issues and drug addiction. “We need to be doing much more on mental health issues. Kids can get lost in the transition from the adolescent system to the adult system. We need to meet people where they are, not with some cookie-cutter approach. We need more culturally specific resources and services for dealing with mental health in indigenous communities, with African Nova Scotians, with our immigrants.”
Beals said that he not been a member of the Progressive Conservatives “in the past, so that’s new for me. I must say that I feel very at home, very welcomed and appreciated.”