Have you got a new 10 dollar bill? If so, you might see a woman on it and it is not the Queen! Not even close. The woman you see is Viola Desmond…
Why is she on the $10 bill? She is a Canadian hero…a woman of courage, who faced adversity. Racial adversity, which is one of the worst kind of injustices any human being should endure, when you criticize someone for who they are, you are essentially putting a dagger to their heart and ignoring the totality of who each individual is.
This week we begin a 4 part series on how to connect to your inner hero.
We will examine the life of Canadian business woman, Viola Desmond and how her values and convictions shaped Canada’s history.
We will also talk about why your values are where you can connect to your own “inner hero”.
I want to share the story of Viola Desmond. I did not write this. It is taken from the Canadian Encyclopedia. Word for word. I don’t want to do this story injustice by re-writing it…this is not the complete article or feature on Viola Desmond, but it will give you insight into why she is on our $10 bill, here in Canada.
“Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.
On the evening of 8 November 1946, Desmond made an unplanned stop in the small community of New Glasgow after her car broke down en route to a business meeting in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Told that the repair would take a number of hours, she arranged for a hotel room and then decided to see a movie to pass the time. At the Roseland Theatre, Desmond requested a ticket for a seat on the main floor. The ticket seller handed Desmond a ticket to the balcony instead, the seating generally reserved for non-White customers. Walking into the main floor seating area, she was challenged by the ticket-taker, who told her that her ticket was for an upstairs seat, where she would have to move. Thinking that a mistake had been made, Desmond returned to the cashier and asked her to exchange the ticket for one downstairs. The cashier refused, saying, “I’m sorry but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Realizing that the cashier was referring to the colour of her skin, Desmond decided to take a seat on the main floor.
Desmond was then confronted by the manager, Henry MacNeil, who argued that the theatre had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person.” Desmond pointed out that she had not been refused admission and had in fact been sold the ticket, which she still held in her hand. She added that she had attempted to exchange it for a main floor ticket and was willing to pay the difference in cost but had been refused. When she declined to leave her seat, a police officer was called. Desmond was dragged out of the theatre, injuring her hip and knee in the process, and taken to jail. There she was met by the Elmo Langille, chief of police, and MacNeil — the pair left together, returning an hour later with a warrant for Desmond’s arrest. She was then held in a cell overnight. Shocked and frightened, she maintained her composure and, as she related later, sat bolt upright all night long.
In the morning, Desmond was brought to court and charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government based on her alleged refusal to pay a one cent amusement tax (i.e., the difference in tax between upstairs and downstairs ticket prices). Even though she had indicated when she was confronted at the theatre that she was willing to pay the difference between the two ticket prices and that her offer had been refused, the judge chose to fine her $26. Six of those dollars were awarded to the manager of the Roseland Theatre, who was listed in the court proceedings as prosecutor. Throughout the trial, Desmond was not provided with counsel or informed that she was entitled to any. Magistrate Roderick MacKay was the only legal official in the court; no crown attorney was present.”
The trial went on…but the outcome is this…Viola Desmond stood up to the racial inequality she faced that November night…the Canadian Encyclopedia concludes;
“Nonetheless, her choice to resist the status quo, and the level of community support she received (e.g., from The Clarion and the NSAACP), reveals a mobilization for change among members of Nova Scotia’s Black population who were no longer willing to endure life as second class citizens. In 1954, segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia thanks in large part to the courageous determination of Desmond and others like her who fought to be treated as equal human beings.
It is difficult to know what Viola Desmond felt about her brave stand and its aftermath. Eventually, and perhaps due to her experience with the Nova Scotia legal system, her marriage fell apart. She subsequently decided to abandon her business and move to Montréal. She died on 7 February 1965 in New York, NY.”
It is obvious that Viola Desmond, is a true example of heroism. In her life, her business and in this moment of injustice and wrong doing on behalf of the government, the community, the theater owner/management, she stood up.
Where does our inner hero come from?
I think we look no further than to our own values. Values are the intrinsic qualities that drive us. That form our operating system. Similar to a computer that has a software system and hard drive, that makes the computer go and run! Our values make us go and run too!
Some values that matter are freedom, family, charity, making a difference, health, abundance, free to express our religious and spiritual beliefs.
When these are tampered with, or if we face challenges that question our values, then my sense is that is where our inner hero resides.
I also equate our values to a big oak tree, with roots deep into the ground and soil. Winds can come and try to uproot the tree, but although the tree may lose branches or leaves, it remains firmly planted into the ground.
As we live through challenging times and you have to admit, if you track what is happening in our social, political and economic structures and systems these days, we are facing huge amounts of change…and big winds.
What will last is tapping into our values. What really matters.
For change to happen, we must take our values and share them with friends, neighbours, our communities, towns, villages, cities and countries.
We must all have freedom, prosperity, equality, joy. It is not just for me to have it and you not to have it and or have access to it!
This week’s lesson is to look at your value system, what is your truth, what is that inner belief that forms your foundation, that if rocked it will remain.
When you find what your key values are, you will find where your own true hero lies. When you live a life of conviction to those values, to your truth, to fairness, equality, justice, kindness, decency, respect, integrity, spirituality (on your terms) and you begin to lead by example, then you truly are a hero!
Stay tuned to part 2 next week!