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Antigonish-based business celebrates Viola Desmond’s legacy

Syna and Cedric Smiley of Revolutionary Apparel had a table set-up for an Antigonish Winter Market session last month. To learn more about the business and how to purchase a T-shirt, visit its Facebook page.
Syna and Cedric Smiley of Revolutionary Apparel had a table set-up for an Antigonish Winter Market session last month. To learn more about the business and how to purchase a T-shirt, visit its Facebook page. - Richard MacKenzie

Revolutionary Apparel currently set up at Halifax Stanfield International Airport

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

An apparel company based on civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond’s image appearing on the $10 bill, is off to a great start.

That’s the message from owners/operators Cedric and Syna Smiley, who started the business Revolutionary Apparel just after the past Christmas season.

Desmond, the African Nova Scotian business woman who, in 1946, challenged racial segregation by refusing to leave the white-only section of the Roseland Movie Theatre in New Glasgow, was selected for the bill in March 2018, which meant she became the first Canadian-born woman to appear alone on a Canadian bank note.

“At the point I caught wind of the $10 bill coming out, I just got blessed with this epiphany of ‘yes,’ let’s give people the $10 bill on a shirt,” Cedric said. “So I had the idea for a while before the shirts actually came out, and then I just structured the production piece of it around the delivery of the bill. So it was about getting them off the press as close to bill time, as possible.

“The bill came out in November and we were able to print them (T-shirts) and get them off the press for December. So far it’s going great … we’re getting a great reception.

Syna talked more about the reception; referring in particular to setting-up tables recently at an Antigonish Winter Market session as well as at a couple of events at the East Coast Credit Union Social Enterprise Centre.

“We have had a great reception in our local town here,” Syna, who is from the Antigonish area, said.

“It’s an overall sense of pride and not just from the African Nova Scotian community, which is our first-and-foremost, but with the general public; people have been open and receptive.”

She talked more about the pride aspect of having Desmond chosen for recognition.

“For me, being from Nova Scotia and being African Nova Scotian, it has really instilled a lot of pride in our communities; not only in Nova Scotia but across Canada,” she said.

“As far as the entrepreneur part of it, Viola herself was an entrepreneur, so that aspect also plays a part. But, I think, the bigger part for me is exactly that; the message of being proud of where you’re from, being proud you’re African Nova Scotian, and that, yes, we too have made contributions in Nova Scotia, Canada and abroad.”

Cedric was speaking to the Casket from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport where he has a kiosk set-up for the month of March as part of the airport’s Runway program - an entrepreneurship platform.

“We have a 30-day window here, the kiosk here at the airport now,” Cedric said.

Shirts, in a few different designs, with the bill attached, can also be purchased through the business’ Facebook page (revolutionaryapparel1) by following the appropriate links.

One of the messages on the shirts states cleverly, ‘not just on the map, on the money’ and features a large image of Nova Scotia. Another message is accompanied by a more global image and states, ‘not just black history, world history.’ Cedric elaborated on the second message when asked about the business’ future plans.

“In that regards, it might take a bit to get around the world,” Cedric said with a chuckle, before returning to a more serious thought.

“We just want to share it (T-shirt and who it recognizes) in as many outlets and locations as we can; to me it’s like lost history, a missing link.

“Ten years before Rosa Parks; I’m from the U.S. and all we knew was Rosa Parks, so that means there are 31 million black Americans who don’t know who she (Desmond) is … that’s an education piece within itself. Ironically enough, there are still a lot of Canadians who don’t know who she is, black and white.”

Only a day into his airport time, Cedric said he had the ‘who is Viola Desmond’ conversation a few times already.

“I think it was a great move,” Smiley said, referencing the decision to use Desmond on the $10 bill.

“They (government) made the first step but I think it’s bigger than the government, it’s the people. It’s in the hands of the people now and we have to embellish this bill, make it our own and find ways to make it empowering and educational; all of those things for the people who come after us. We have to share the story and the spirit that she exemplified.”

Syna said Desmond’s story unifies.

“I think what happens with the Viola Desmond story is that it brings us all together and makes the point that we all have something to contribute,” she said, adding they’re pleased to be able to share her story as often as they do, especially coming off February being African Heritage Month and now March including International Women’s Day. 

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