A Conversation With: René Boudreau, Community Engagement Coordinator of ABSW

“A Conversation With” is a series featuring the partners of the Creating Communities of Care project. This series consists of four parts, each one a one-on-one conversation with one of the people directly involved with the project. We had the privilege of sitting down with René Boudreau, the Community Engagement Coordinator with the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW). She is a key figure on the frontlines of this groundbreaking project.

Being Heard, Being Seen

As the only African Nova Scotian/Black organization involved in Creating Communities of Care, the focus for René has always been on her community. She strives to create programming tailored to the needs of African Nova Scotian/Black folks in Halifax. She recognizes the unique ways in which gender-based violence (GBV) needs to be addressed in the African Nova Scotian/Black community and does so in ways that bring African Nova Scotian/Black men and boys into the discussion. Through Healing Sessions centred around personal and community growth and connection, René built spaces for the conversations of GBV to happen in ways that were both culturally appropriate and safe for all.

“I got involved because it is a huge, important topic, and it is happening in our communities, so I wanted to learn more about what that looks like and how we can do better as a community to normalize the conversation and bring more awareness to the fact that this is happening in our communities and we need to break that silence.”

-René Boudreau

René strives to create culturally safe spaces to talk about these hard issues. Her goal is to create communities that are not only free of violence but are also stronger and more resilient.

“Creating Communities of Care, for me, is about creating awareness about gender-based violence within our African Nova Scotian/Black communities. It’s about creating spaces for our faces to be seen and our voices be heard. It’s about strengthening relationships with ourselves and others while healing individually and collectively.”

-René Boudreau

Addressing GBV

René shared that gender-based violence is not normally discussed in African Nova Scotian/Black communities and that bringing the discussion to the forefront took careful planning and programming. This has been her challenge, and she took up that challenge wholeheartedly. By tailoring programming to the community in ways where GBV was not the sole focus, the programming was more successful. Not only that but the programming was centred on healing and empowerment, elements which are critical to building healthy, strong communities.

“By having that approach, we’re getting lots of people coming out to these sessions. It creates healing spaces as well and support circles for people to come together to network and build relationships and learn more about the work that we do.”

-René Boudreau

Recognizing a gap in the discussion around GBV, René also drew in African Nova Scotian/Black men and boys into the sessions, ensuring that they are also educated about GBV prevention in a culturally safe and open way.

“… Oftentimes, men and boys are left out of these types of conversations, so we wanted to make sure that we were creating healing spaces for them as well as learning opportunities and bringing more awareness of gender-based violence to the men and boys. We all play an important role, and we all need to learn about it.”

-René Boudreau

Healing Through CCC

For René, Creating Communities of Care is just as much about community healing as it is about gender-based violence prevention. Through healing all members of a community, you work to mitigate the causational factors behind GBV. Fostering connection and support are critical for healing a community impacted by institutional racism and social marginalization.

“Creating Communities of Care is important to me because it creates spaces for community to come together to heal, to strengthen relationships and to learn and to connect… Oftentimes, specifically in African Nova Scotian communities, yes, we have events when we’re celebrating and whatnot, but then there are also times where, as a community, we come together to talk about racism or things that we have experienced as a community or as individuals.”

-René Boudreau

The flexibility offered by CCC allowed René to tailor the project to the specific needs of the African Nova Scotian/Black communities. She created spaces that were for them in a way not seen previously and in ways that were based on where they were as a community. 

“What I really love about Creating Communities of Care is it allows us to be flexible in how we see the project going based off of where we are as a community because everybody is at different stages. So, the Indigenous partners, their communities might be at a different stage than our communities. Or Elizabeth Fry and the clientele they work with may be at a different stage. So I love that we’re able to create it or have flexibility in how we offer certain services or different sessions based off of where we are as a community.”

-René Boudreau

Moving Forward

This has been an inspiring experience for not only participants but also René herself, who acted as both the coordinator of, and also participant in, these sessions. 

“It is just been a really powerful experience for me in spaces full of Black women or Black people, and doing something super positive. We’re learning together. We’re asking questions. I always leave the sessions feeling super inspired.”

-René Boudreau

The Healing Sessions, which René coordinated, allowed the discussions of GBV to happen in ways where GBV was not the sole focus. This created spaces where all participants could be comfortable and sure of themselves in their participation.

“The thing, too, is that, as a community, we might not be there yet in terms of having daily conversations about gender-based violence, but I do look at Creating Communities of Care as a stepping stone to being able to talk about gender-based violence and build those relationships so that people will come back and feel more comfortable to share their experiences or share their stories.”

-René Boudreau

Without funding, these projects and sessions, so carefully tailored to the needs of the African Nova Scotian/Black community, could not continue. Without such culturally specific programming, we can’t hope to see the end of GBV.

“So I think that the more we’re able to continue these sessions, the easier it will be to break the silence and have people more comfortable with sharing their experiences.”

-René Boudreau

It is people like René who do this work and who need this funding to continue it. As a frontline service provider, René knows what the community needs and how to best support them. It is critical that the funding be provided to allow such sessions to continue.

You can read the interview in its entirety here. To learn more about the Creating Communities of Care project, you can check out our website or listen to our podcast here.