By Jordan Whitehouse |
One of the Huskies’ first black football players says positive experiences at Saint Mary's allowed him to “think big and reach high.”
If you were black and living in Halifax in the 1960s, life was, to say the least, not easy. This isn’t to say racism doesn’t still exist today in the city, but as Blair Lopes BA’69 puts it, discrimination was very much “alive and well” at that time.
“It was a racialized society, and the black community was situated in pockets—places like Africville, the Prestons, Hammonds Plains, and the Creighton Street area, where I grew up,” he says. “It affected one’s self esteem and self-confidence when you were restricted as to where you could go, where you could stay, and where you could work.”
That negative self-perception began to change for the high school football star, however, when he crossed town to enroll at Saint Mary’s as a sociology student. “The restrictions that I had been experiencing my whole life weren’t present at SMU and it brought me to a realization of there being two very different worlds,” he says. “At SMU, everyone seemed to be treated the same no matter your race or nationality, where you were from or your financial status.”
This was especially evident on the Huskies football team, under Coach Bob Hayes. Lopes joined as one of its first black football players. “Whether or not I played and what position I played depended on my abilities and determination, not on the colour of my skin.” Lopes directly credits Bob Hayes for this inclusive and positive environment, saying Hayes consistently emphasized teamwork, working toward a common goal, being respectful, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions. “I have the utmost respect for Coach Hayes,” he says. “Through football, he gave me the opportunity to have positive experiences and be a part of something successful to which I was a contributing member.”
Looking back on how he was treated as a player and a person at Saint Mary’s, the now retired 70-year-old Lopes says that experience gave him the confidence and motivation to dream of success after graduating. “It introduced me to what life could be without racism and discrimination and heightened my resolve to continue to experience what it was like to live in a positive environment.”
He went on to join the Federal Public Service, where he spent nearly three decades, retiring as the Regional Director of the Federal Public Service Commission for Atlantic Canada. During that time, he was sent to Gambia as a labour market planning expert, along with representatives from the United Nations and the British Commonwealth Secretariat. Along the way he also launched his own management consulting business, was appointed to Dalhousie University’s faculty of management as an adjunct professor, and sat on various national and local boards and committees, including the Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
“I would not have dared to dream that any of this could have been possible before attending SMU,” he says. “When I entered SMU, I had little confidence and little self-esteem. However, when I left there, I was full of confidence and had a more positive perception of myself and my abilities. This propelled me to think big and to reach high.”