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Oliver Family

The Reverend Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver

Chair of Community Leadership and Social Justice

Through our five-year strategic vision, Change with Purpose, Acadia Divinity College is committed to addressing systemic racism in our structures and curriculum. We strive to equip and encourage clergy and faith communities to become advocates for justice and reconciliation in their churches and communities. We seek to transform past assumptions and injustices that the church either perpetuates or ignores. We are committed to the ministry of reconciliation.

Through The Reverend Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver Chair of Community Leadership and Social Justice, Acadia Divinity College (ADC) will: 

Honour the legacy of William and Pearleen Oliver 

ADC recognizes the significance of these two outstanding leaders in African United Baptist and Atlantic Baptist circles, as well as their wider contribution to Nova Scotian communities. This Chair will ensure that their story – one that is rooted in justice, anti-racism, and education – continues to be told. 

Ensure representation of the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia (AUBA) on our faculty 

ADC is committed to the representation of African Nova Scotians on our teaching faculty. Through this Chair, we formalize this intentional priority, now and for the future. 

Teach a new generation of church leaders to engage in community transformation 

ADC understands the central importance of the flow of leadership between the community and the pulpit. With this Chair, we strengthen our commitment to teaching our students to promote the active participation of church in community, to be leaders in both, and make beneficial connections between the two. 

Embed justice and equality in our curriculum 

ADC believes the principle of equality and the practice of justice are central to the Christian gospel. This Chair will reflect our commitment to the teaching, learning, and practice of justice, including anti-racism, as part of the ADC curriculum. Future church leaders will be equipped to practice these commitments in church and community. 

Elevate the recruitment of next generation of African Nova Scotian leaders 

ADC sees a crisis of leadership emerging in Baptist churches in Atlantic Canada, including amongst the African United Baptist communities. Through this Chair, we will raise the profile of church and community leadership and make connections with young leaders, the next generation of those whom God is calling to serve the church today. 

Senator Donald Oliver

“In faith and with an openness to hope, Bill and Pearleen lived their lives in a posture of forgiveness, compassion, and understanding. If the next generation of seminary graduates carries this legacy into communities along with the Bible’s message of social justice, Nova Scotia, and ultimately Canada, will be a more tolerant and accepting place.”

~ The Honourable Dr. Donald H. Oliver, CM, ONS, QC 

Showing The Way

Rev. Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver, two Christian activists and visionary community leaders who shared a dream of an enlightened future, worked tirelessly to advance social justice in education, employment, and community. 

They dedicated their lives to breaking down barriers and in efforts to end anti-Black systemic racism. 

When evening adult education classes were approved in over 50 Black communities in Nova Scotia but funding was denied to keep the lights and heat on, William lobbied the government for the money.

When a young Black woman arrived on their doorstep having been denied entrance to nursing school, Pearleen campaigned for ending the racial discrimination in the nursing field across Canada.

When Viola Desmond was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat in a New Glasgow theatre, William and Pearleen rallied the community to her cause and raised funds for her legal appeal.

When systemic anti-Black racism eroded the acceptance and celebration of Black culture, William proposed the creation of a cultural education centre to protect, preserve, and promote Black culture. The Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia was born. 

William and Pearleen Oliver exemplify the actions and attitudes that Acadia Divinity College seeks to instill in future Christian leaders. We uphold the ministry of these two significant Christian leaders as a powerful example for today’s faith communities in the pursuit of social justice. We will honour their legacy through The Reverend Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver Chair of Community Leadership and Social Justice.

Call to Awareness 

The story of the African Nova Scotian community is one of faith, perseverance, and resilience. 

For nearly four centuries, people of African, Black, and Caribbean descent have experienced segregation, discrimination, and systemic anti-Black racism in all aspects of life in Atlantic Canada: in education, employment, housing, and on the streets. Faith communities have often been complicit or silent witnesses to the injustices of racism. 

Acadia has been historically at the forefront of inclusion in higher education. As the seminary of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, Acadia Divinity College has enjoyed a long partnership with the African Nova Scotian community through the AUBA. While we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we recognize we have sometimes neglected our responsibilities and relationship; we have not always been attentive allies.

Acadia Divinity College has prepared many African Nova Scotians for ministry, yet the voices of colour have often been overlooked in our curriculum and the wider theological discourse. Our graduates need a greater equipping to address racism and discrimination from a biblical perspective.

The Bible speaks of the justice of God as part of God’s character. God calls people to act with justice, mercy, and compassion. Jesus’ ministry was also one of love and justice, calling all who would follow Him to embrace a service of self-sacrifice, considering others better than ourselves, and taking up our cross to follow Him. As we follow Jesus, we embody the call to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

Scripture calls us to justice and equality. We aim to this higher call.

“Social justice is an intrinsic part of the Bible and of Christian witness. Their faith called Bill and Pearleen to be compassionate and care for those who were disenfranchised, oppressed, or in need of help. Their social justice agenda flowed from the pulpit and out to people in their communities. There’s a very strong place for the Christian church to make a difference.” 

~ The Honourable Dr. Donald H. Oliver, CM, ONS, QC

Resources

Videos

How Then Shall we live? Racism & the Church?” 2022 Acadia Divinity College Simpson Lectures with Rev. Dr. Rhonda Britton and Rev. Dr. Lennett AndersonWatch Lectures
Rev. Dr. William Oliver AUBA Gathering August 16-17, 1987Watch Video
Black Mother Black Daughter by Sylvia Hamilton and Clair Prieto – National Film Board of CanadaWatch Video
Dr. Pearleen Oliver Address – Mount Saint Vincent University Convocation 1993Watch Video
Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada – 2022 Lent Reflections on Anti-RacismWatch Videos

Books

Born with a Call: a Biography of Dr. William Pearly Oliver, by Colin A. Thompson. Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, 1986.View Book
Pearleen Oliver: Canada’s Black Crusader for Civil Rights, edited by Ronald Caplan. Breton Books, 2020.View Book
A Matter of Equality: the Life’s Work of Senator Don Oliver, by Don Oliver. Nimbus Publishing, 2021View Book

Courses

LEDR 3043 / 6043 The Practice of Leadership in Contemporary Society with Rev. Dr. Lennett AndersonView Course
LEDR 4213 / 7213 THEO 7223 Theology and Practice of Racial Justice with Rev. Dr. Lennett AndersonView Course

Organizations

The Black Cultural Centre for Nova ScotiaView Organization
Africville Museum and Heritage TrustView Organization
Black Loyalist Heritage CentreView Organization
Acadia University Archives – Atlantic Baptist ArchivesView Organization

“As William Oliver’s brother and as a graduate of Acadia University, I have a deep and personal connection to this chair. 

I invite you, and the whole community, to participate in funding The Reverend Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver Chair of Community Leadership and Social Justice. 

It is imperative that this Chair be fully endowed to ensure their work of social justice continues and grows in perpetuity. Your support is not only participating in the legacy of Bill and Pearleen Oliver, it is also taking a stand against injustice and making a difference for all.” 

~ The Honourable Dr. Donald H. Oliver, CM, ONS, QC 

Give with Purpose

You can help Acadia Divinity College honour the legacy of William and Pearleen Oliver and be part of making their dream a reality. By supporting The Reverend Dr. William and Dr. Pearleen Oliver Chair of Community Leadership and Social Justice, you will join in their vision of a future free of anti-Black racism and social injustice. 

To fully fund an academic chair, Acadia Divinity College requires an investment of $3 million. All donations, large or small, are meaningful and are eligible for a tax receipt in accordance with Canada Revenue Agency regulations. 

Other ways to give:

By cheque made payable to “Acadia DivinityCollege” noting ‘Oliver Chair’ in the memo

By transfer of publicly-listed securities such as gifts of shares, capital stocks, units ofCanadian mutual funds

By eTransfer to adc.donations@acadiau.ca

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