Our People in Profile: Wellness navigator Mario Rolle says building relationships key to Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative success

Mario Rolle is a wellness navigator with NSHA's Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.
Mario Rolle is a wellness navigator with NSHA's Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.

Growing up in the Bahamas, Mario Rolle was surrounded by people who look like him.

He credits this environment for nurturing his confidence as a black man.

“I was taught by people who looked like me,” he said. 

It wasn’t until Rolle moved to Canada as an adult that he became aware of the racism faced by people who are black, particularly African Nova Scotians.

As a wellness navigator with the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative, Rolle works every day with African Nova Scotian men. The program takes a holistic view of black men’s health, focusing on the social determinants of health.

Rolle’s role looks different based on the needs of each client. He helps clients connect to primary health care services and mental health supports.

“I also attend court with clients for support and advocacy. If a young man says, ‘I want to learn to cook,’ I connect him with a black chef in community.”

The key to the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative’s success is community engagement, said Rolle. The Men’s Health League has been instrumental in shaping the program, as have other members of the African Nova Scotian community. 

The most important part of his role, Rolle said, is building relationships.

“The African Nova Scotian culture is an amazing culture,” he said. “If you don’t build relationships, you’re not going to understand it.”
Having been taught under a Eurocentric system, Rolle has had to broaden his own perspectives to take an Afrocentric view. “I have to learn all views to understand.”

Rolle is encouraged by the progress he sees within the health system.

“It felt like the system was against us; now it feels like we have a system that can go to bat for you,” he said. “To have this amazing program under NSHA is big. It’s something the community needed for such a long time.”

As a result, Rolle sees more black men reaching out for the support they need to be well.

At the same time, he knows there’s more work to do.

“I’d love to see more individuals of African descent reflected in management roles,” he said, noting the importance of understanding the culture and experience of those of African descent, and bringing a different world view to the table.

When Rolle reflects on what part of his culture and heritage he’s most proud of, he says it’s his resilience.

“I came from poverty. I didn’t know I was poor because I was in it. My parents taught me morals and judgement and made sure I educated myself.”

Now, he brings that resilience to his work, focusing on providing the supports that black men need to empower themselves and achieve their best health.

“One of the key things is the love. I love to see people. I love to help people. I love to see people succeed.”

To learn more about the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative (NSBI), please visit http://www.nshealth.ca/content/nova-scotia-brotherhood-initiative-nsbi.

To learn more about African Heritage Month in  Nova Scotia, please visit https://ansa.novascotia.ca/african-heritage-month.