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Health Events Among Highlights of African Heritage Month at Dalhousie

In 1988, Nova Scotia first recognized Black History Month. Thirty years later the tradition continues with African Heritage Month being recognized and celebrated in communities, by organizations and in our postsecondary institutions across the province.

Flag raising Dalhousie 2018

Photos: Dalhousie University

On Feb. 1, Dalhousie University launched a month of events with the raising of the Pan-African (or Marcus Garvey) flag to reflect and honour this year’s theme of “BLACK EXCELLENCE: COMMUNITY TO ACADEMIA.”

Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) was recognized for its dedication and contribution to the success of Black students in health, among other pioneering pathway programs such as Dalhousie’s Transition Year Program, Indigenous Black & Mi’kmaq Initiative (in law school), Black Educators Association’s Math Camp and Imhotep’s Legacy Academy.

Woman sitting in a chair in front of bannerIn keeping with the theme of Black Excellence, PLANS joined the Africentric Learning Institute and the Health Association of African Canadians in welcoming Dr. Clotilda Yakimchuk to share her story to the community and aspiring nurses as one of Nova Scotia’s first Black nurses.

Dr. Yakimchuk shared stories of her journey – from failing grade seven and taking that as a lesson to work hard, facing racism and standing strong as patients refused to be cared by a Black woman, and being elected the first Black president of the Registered Nurses Association in Nova Scotia in its 100-year history.  During her training, Dr. Yakimchuk did not see many others that looked like her, but was pleased to hear that more students of African descent are considering the nursing profession – one she enjoyed very much.  It was a pleasure to sit with Dr. Yakimchuk and she is an inspiration to all.

To close the month, PLANS is supporting Black health events with the student-led groups: Atlantic Association of Aspiring Black Physicians, Community of Black Students in Nursing, and Health Association of African Canadian-Student Organization as they aim to educate, build community and strive for excellence within themselves.

Students at Dalhousie summer campPLANS is now recruiting youth for its summer programming which has grown with support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. In its fifth year, the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp will see students from across Nova Scotia learn more about postsecondary options, health careers and meet new friends as the camps are held at three Nova Scotian universities.

Michelle Patrick is the program manager for Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) – supporting people of African descent on their journey to education and a career in health. Her favorite PLANS program is the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp that has expanded to more institutions across Nova Scotia and is reaching an increasing number of youth. She is a community volunteer with the Health Association of African Canadians and the Community Health Board.

Civil Rights Legacy Shapes Mission at Providence St. Mel

In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved into an apartment in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood — less than a mile from where Providence St. Mel stands — to protest housing inequality, segregation and poverty in this embattled community. A few short years later, Paul J. Adams III, the founder of Providence St. Mel School, moved from Alabama to that same neighborhood in Chicago to make a difference. Mr. Adams shares that his life’s work and the mission of Providence St. Mel are inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.

Photo of students at Providence St. MelMr. Adams remembers how Dr. King impacted his path as a young man. “In 1955, I met Dr. King. That same year Emmett Till was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi, and Rosa Parks sat down on a bus. At that time, I was the same age as Emmett Till. I remember walking home and feeling the sweat run down my hand thinking that could have been me fished out of that river. The events of that year shaped my life. They set me on my road to whatever I was going to do. There is not a day I wake up that I don’t think about Emmett Till.”

Many of the societal woes that Dr. King protested still strangle this west side Chicago community, yet Providence St. Mel remains a beacon of hope. Since 1978, 100 percent of our students have graduated from high school and have been accepted into four-year colleges and universities. Many students begin their time at Providence St. Mel with significant academic deficits and personal obstacles, but we know that when given high expectations, support and proper instruction, all students can achieve.

Adams on playgroundOur mission is shaped by the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the drive to challenge young people to reach their full potential. Mr. Adams notes, “Without a proper education, a person is doomed.  If we can provide the right environment, our children will enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper.”

During his more than 40 years impacting the west side Chicago community, Mr. Adams has received countless awards and recognition for his work improving the community. Most recently, on Feb. 13, he received The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award from The Leaders Network, a collaboration of clergy and community stakeholders in Chicago.

The mission statement of Providence St. Mel that students recite each morning states, “we believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work” and “we believe one must earn the right to dream.” The determined students at Providence St. Mel understand that the dreams of the Civil Rights movement must come through determination, hard work and education.

Senior Jalen F.Students recognize the connections between the school’s mission and the importance of honoring Black History by investing in black futures.

“Our school’s mission statement is essentially what Black History means to me,” shares senior Jalen F. “Every morning is a reminder to look at ourselves when we commit to ‘take this place, this time and this people and make a better place, better time and better people. You can’t say those words and not think of our ancestors’ sacrifices.”

Succeeding as a First-Generation Student

I understand. It seems too easy for some of us. At times, it also seems like too much for some of us.

To all of the first-generation students, I want to say I am proud of you! This is something that some of us hear too often and the rest of us wish we could hear more. As a person who was once in your shoes, I am proud BECAUSE of your determination, persistence, and selflessness. You are strong (mentally and symbolically). Yes, all eyes will be on you. But you do not have to succumb to the scrutiny. Keep your eyes fixed on your goals and “keep swimming.”

Galdwin Stewart with arm around womanThere is no guide for the journey that you have embarked on. You will hear plenty of stories, but not everything will come close to your lived experience. From one proud Johnson Scholarship Foundation first-generation student to all that will follow, here are some tips, affirmations, and food for thought:

  1. Work hard for you! We oftentimes forget to think about ourselves as first-gen students. Our family is and always will be important to us, but this is our lives and we have to do what makes us happy as well. Your family will be happy for you regardless.
  2. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Stopping to smell the roses is important. We can get caught up in the daily grind and forget to stop and take a breath, catch a sunset, or go for a walk to decompress. If you are not 100 percent, then you cannot give 100 percent to the activities or people in your life.
  3. Gadwin Stewart, Johnson ScholarNot giving up when times get tough. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man (or woman) is not where he (she) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands in times of challenge and controversy.” What you do when times get tough will define your persistence and resilience. Remember that some of the eyes that are watching are hoping you fail. Don’t let their hopes come true at your expense.
  4. You are the first, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. There is room for mistakes and learning along the way. Find a support system (person or group of people) and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  5. Sharing your experiences with your family will make them feel like they are a part of your journey. Sharing is truly caring. What you share with your family could inspire a family member to follow in your footsteps.
  6. Growth is inevitable. It is okay to grow and still cherish the values that you were raised with. You will always sound different, dress different, and even behave differently to someone somewhere. When they say you have changed, tell them that all caterpillars must grow wings, eventually.

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” – Luke 12:48