Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.


Noise Complaint: Violence Against Women

A friend had recently told me about this video that had been circulating on Facebook. I asked her to send it to me so I could watch it for myself. The ad begins in Johannesburg, South Africa with a man in his living room playing a drum set. As he continues to play, neighbours from the suburban area hear the noise and one by one begin to complain. He is given a letter from a group of neighbours stating that the drumming is too loud. On a different night, the same man plays a recording of an argument that takes place between a woman and her partner, which results in the woman being beaten. Screams are heard (approximately as loud, if not louder than the drumming noise from the night prior) and the man patiently waits for neighbours to approach. One might expect for the neighbours to intervene. Surely if they heard the drumming from the other night they could hear the woman screaming in agony? But no matter how extreme the situation, no one stepped forward to assist or intervene.

This ad was created by the organization, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), which was established in South Africa. After watching this ad, I decided to take a look at some statistics in Canada for violence against women, which according to the United Nations, can be defined as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Unfortunately, since the age of 16, at least half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one physical or sexual violence encounter. Another shocking statistic is that approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is murdered by her spouse/partner. When looking at the facts, it is hard to swallow that such disturbing acts are still occurring in Canada, and in the world in general today. What’s even more upsetting is that the statistics are based on the files that go reported, while many victims remain in hiding for fear of what will happen if they report such violence, or fear of the potential shame or guilt that reporting might bring.


The question remains, how do we end violence against women? I’m sure many people would suggest the need for women to engage in safer activities, dress in non-provocative clothing, attend to their partner and refrain from engaging in activities or discussion that could bring about bursts of anger which could lead to physical violence. Does that seem like an appropriate answer to you? Unfortunately, many people (both males and females) still hold these views and refuse to place blame on anyone except the woman involved. It is our job to change the mind set of the future generations and begin an open and on-going dialogue of how to prevent and end violence against women. We must educate others on how to respect women’s minds and bodies and that violence should never be a choice, a solution or a last resort. What men need to realize is that they play a huge role in the eradication of violence against women, not only by abstaining to engage in such acts, but by teaching others how to respect women and becoming active participants in this dialogue.

With that said, it is important to be aware of the resources that are available both within and outside of the Ryerson campus. If you or a woman you know has experienced violence whether physical or sexual, the Centre for Women and Trans People (located on the 2nd floor of the Student Centre at 55 Gould St.) is available on campus. They offer a variety of services to advocate and support women who have experienced violence, one of which is the Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line where you can speak with fellow peers for support and additional resources. Outside of campus, other support networks include, but are not limited to, The Assaulted Women’s Helpline, Victim Services Program of Toronto, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: Multicultural Women Against Rape and Family Service Toronto (see below link for contact information).

I leave you with the video’s concluding text, “every year, 1400 women are killed by their partners… Don’t you think that’s worth complaining about?” I sure do. Help advocate for violence against women by spreading the word, educating others and even getting involved with various agencies that help support this very serious and tragic cause.


Check out the ad here:


Canadian Statistics:

Available Resources:,

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