Written by: Nnamdi Chiekwe, Therapeutic Recreation Student
Interview with: Mario Rolle, Master of Social Work, Program coordinator Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative
Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) is writing a monthly blog post highlighting “Faces of Black Health”. This post highlights Mario Rolle and his work in Social work as well as the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.
What do you do?
I am a social worker; I work for the Nova Scotia Brotherhood (NSBI) as a wellness navigator.
What’s your role in your health Profession?
NSBI is a free health program for Black men. We provide [wellness and health] navigation, we have a family doctor, psychiatrist, and a psychologist. My job as a navigator is to help men of African descent navigate not only the health system, but anything that affects the social determinants of health. Any day it could be different, one day it could be health, the next day it could be justice, the next day it could be employment, it varies.
If you have/feel comfortable sharing, can you explain your experiences as a Black Health professional in your field?
Well it’s hard.
When I say it’s hard, I mean this organization is the only one in Canada, and so it’s a learning process. As we go, we learn, and we pick up stuff. The program is holistic, so it’s not an ordinary healthcare or community health team. I work with various people, so my work day can look different every day.
It is hard being the only Black organization. Some of the problems that we face and try to take to management, the understanding of the client’s needs and our needs is really complicated to resolve and comprehend.
Now is this a hierarchical, budget, or needs issue?
When we talk about systematic racism or institutional racism, for people of African descent when you’re dealing with an organization like Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), they want to see data. Some initiatives under this organizations may say “let’s try this initiative and see if it works”, but for us it’s almost like we have to provide data to prove that what we do works.
With the brotherhood, we work and create data. While I’m doing this job, I am creating programming, and I am creating a position in here to prove and show management, and to show the community that this program is necessary.
For instance, in the court system there isn’t a Black advocate for individuals of African descent. So, what I did I created a position in there through the Brotherhood where I can come in and advocate on behalf of individuals of African descent. Before an individual [of African descent] goes up before the judge, they would advise that individual to see Mario, and if it is a female [of African descent] they would advise her to see Mario, and I would refer her to a female organization or an organization that does not only deal with men.
So, for us, we use the H word, holistic. So, you know when you go to a doctor you see a doctor for 15 minutes, for us, it’s like you come in and we first have to build a relationship, because if we don’t build a relationship with clients, they’re not going to open up to us. So it will be 15 minutes or 5 minutes seeing the client, because when the client sees us, they basically already know who we are and how were are going to respond to them, if they feel like we’re going to be volatile or hostile with them they’re going to shut-down and barriers are going to be risen.
Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services?
To be honest, as an ordinary person, it’s hard versus me being an employee of NSHA. Being a Black person, a lot of people they do talk about racism, and sometimes racism almost wants to be a taboo word, and no one wants to talk about it. When I go into the hospital, I’m treated differently than a NSHA employee. When I go in as an ordinary person, it takes a longer time for me to get the help that I need.
Recently, I [my wife] had a baby, and I wanted to try and see if it works. I went there one day dressed as an ordinary person in chill and comfortable clothing, and it was almost like I was looked down and shunned. Until the nurse came in and was talking to my wife and was asking what she did and what does her husband do, and when my wife told them what I did, the whole atmosphere changed, because now “he’s” a social worker. So now how I was perceived at the beginning has changed, everyone is now nice to me.
As Black people, especially for professionals, we have to do extra to prove ourselves, for a Lawyer, doctor, they can dress any way and they are respected regardless. Before I graduated from Dalhousie University, I went to Saint Mary’s. What I did while I was there, I never cut my beard and wear a sweater with my hood up. I would be looking like an old man and I was judged. But those people didn’t know what I did, and it’s the same way now 4-5 years later, I’m now a clinical social worker and basically I have to dress the part as a Black man to be respected, and sometimes I’m still not respected because I am challenged with what I know because of the letters I have behind my name, it’s like you have to do double as a Black health professional.
How have you found/finding community in your profession?
One thing I love about NSHA is that they have allowed me to create this program. I am not micromanaged, I have an amazing director, and they just let me go with it. We held a men’s conference in November, we didn’t have a conference plan, but they wanted us to do an event, and the director assured that whatever the men wanted to do we could make it happen. So, I want to say that I have great support when it comes to management at NSHA.
I also rely a lot on the Association of Black Social workers (ABSW), and if I need an organization to advocate on my behalf, as well as HAAC (Health Association of African Canadians).
Where I’m at right now is amazing. For management the Brotherhood has amazing supports, and the community groups (ABSW & HAAC) are very supportive. Also, other organizations like justice and housing supports us as well because we do a lot of work with them. One day I could be working in health, the next day I could be working with someone from justice, the next day someone from housing, someone from child protection. That’s one thing that I like about this position that I do, it is not restricted just to health.
Announcements for the audience?
We are planning the second annual Men’s Health conference, so stay tuned for details.
What is the Men’s Health league?
It is an organization where we bring 1 male figure from each community to sit at our table to discuss issues that are affecting our communities. For example, if incarceration rate is affecting our community, we talk about how we deal with a situation like this. Once we devise a plan, the groups might say we need to do some workshops on employment for persons re-entering into community from incarceration. It is what the community wants, my job is to take their ideas to management and make sure it happens.
Our programs are free, if you want to see a doctor it’s free, if you want to see a psychiatrist or psychologist it’s free, but you have to be referred by our doctor. The brotherhood is something like a quick fix, we’re that service that addresses the gap in the system for people until they can find a more permanent solution.