Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard of Nova Scotia was recently awarded membership in the Order of Canada, which recognizes lifetime achievement and dedication to the community and the nation.
Dr. Thomas Bernard is a social worker, educator, researcher, community activist, and advocate of social change. Born in East Preston, the sixth of ten children born to Marguerite Thomas Parent and the late James A. Thomas, she was one of 13 children her parents raised. She holds a BA from Mount Saint Vincent University (1975), an MSW from the Maritime School of Social work at Dalhousie University (1977), and a PhD in Sociological Studies from the University of Sheffield, England (1996). She has worked in mental health at the Nova Scotia Hospital, in rural community practice with the Family Services Association, and since 1990 as professor at the Dalhousie School of Social Work, where she became director in 2001.
Dr. Thomas Bernard has had a long and distinguished career in the field of social work and has been successful not only in her professional practice, but also in her dedicated volunteer work in her church and community. She is deeply committed to her family, including partner George Bernard Jr., daughter Candace, step-children Trudy and Mark, son-in-laws David and Kevin, and a large extended and community family.
She is a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers, a group of four that grew to a membership of over 30. ABSW effectively changed the ways in which Black children and families were served by child welfare agencies, including legislative changes implemented with the Children and Family Services Act in 1991. More recently, Dr. Thomas Bernard has worked with colleagues and her church to design a community-based, pre-employment project for Black women on income assistance who face multiple barriers to entering the work force. She has been active at Victoria Road Baptist Church, serving as Sunday School Superintendent for many years, and is the current chair of the Finance Board and Projects Committee.
In her previous involvement in the Black United Front, the National Black Coalition, and numerous community education projects, she has addressed issues of racism, violence, sexism, parenting, and identity with the primary goal of making the community a better place for all its citizens.
Much of Dr. Thomas Bernard’s research and writing has addressed issues of race, representation, oppression, and empowerment. These projects have resulted in 24 publications and 122 local, national, and international presentations, all in an effort to share her knowledge, information, and passion for social justice with a wider audience. Her work in demonstrating innovative ways of addressing racism and discrimination was recognized when she received the 2004 Nova Scotia Human Rights Award, and she was also inducted to the W. P. Oliver Wall of Fame at the Black Cultural Centre for her leadership in community development.
Identified as a model of tolerance, understanding, and compassion, Dr. Thomas Bernard is highly regarded for addressing racial and cultural diversity in social work education and in the community. From her practice and community work to her teaching and research, her focus is always on “how we create change”.