This year’s Racial Justice Leadership Grant recipients from StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership are (clockwise): Nicole Crowie, Wankunda Bwalya, Sharone King, Kevanya Simmons and Tamara Borden.

ANTIGONISH: Two Black students from the Gerald Schwartz School of Business who provide hair services say they are so grateful to have been provided the opportunity to be able to use their talents to positively impact the Antigonish and StFX communities.

“It is extremely heartwarming, as we both love and see the importance in building a stronger Black community and giving back to our own,” Sharonne King, a fourth year student with an advanced major in finance and Wankunda Bwalya, who is majoring in entrepreneurship and a minoring in studio art, said. “In residing in Antigonish for four-plus years, we have seen the amazing progress this community has made in the fight against racial injustice and hope to add to this initiative by empowering one another to proudly embrace our Blackness.”

King, who is originally from the Bahamas, and Bwalya, who is originally from Zambia, have been awarded a joint grant as part of the 2021 Racial Justice Leadership Grant recipients from StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership.

“Through leadership and mentoring, it is our hope to have the services we provide here at StFX and in Antigonish continue once we have graduated,” the pair said. “From our experiences, we have seen the positive impact providing Black hair services has brought to both members of the StFX student body and Antigonish community and desire to keep this influence in the years to follow.”

The duo run Beauty Starts Hair: Embracing, Educating & Empowering.

“When living in a small town with a predominantly all white environment, it is sometimes challenging for persons of African descent to fully embrace their identity when there is little to zero representation,” King and Bwalya said. “Therefore, this project aims to highlight and increase the visibility of Black students both at St. Francis Xavier University and within the Antigonish community.”

They will work to attain this mainly though hair dressing and barbershop services that aren’t specifically available for Black hair in Antigonish and they’ve embraced the opportunity to provide hair services to students and persons of African descent.

“For this project, we will continue to do this by showcasing these services to the StFX and Antigonish communities, while expanding the knowledge of the beauty of expressing ourselves through our hair and the benefits reaped by protecting and taking care of it,” they said. “Moreover, as our time is winding down here in Antigonish, we plan to mentor with the skills of Black barbering and hair dressing, to ensure a continuum of Black hair services in this community after we have graduated from StFX.”

It is their ultimate hope that the Black community within Antigonish, will continue to exhibit a strong sense of pride and empowerment, and that people from all races and backgrounds would have received adequate knowledge on the beauty of Black hair and cultural expression

Five StFX students are pursuing research projects as part of the Racial Injustice Leadership Grants, and in addition to King and Bwalya, this year’s recipients include Kevanya Simmons, Nicole Crowie, and Tamaa Borden.

According to a release from the university the grants, up to six annually of $4,500 each, provide Black and Indigenous students with funding and institutional resources to support projects that include research, organizing and outreach work, or advocacy and activism in racial justice.

The grants were introduced in 2020 to help contribute to the wider efforts at StFX and in the community to combat the continued presence of racism in Canadian society and in higher education.

Within the first two years, the recipients claim the grants have proven to be invaluable to their work.

Simmons, a senior student from the Bahamas who is completing a degree in the Aquatic Resources program with a joint major in public policy and social research, indicated the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership gave her an opportunity to make her dream a reality.

Her project is called “Conch Crisis: Internalized, Socialized & Economized,” and in her study, she examines the conch crisis in the Bahamas.

“This opportunity is important to me, as I am able to represent my country on an international scale while making my mark in marine conservationist research,” she said. “I anticipate my research project will highlight areas for improvement in community-based response of the Bahamian fishing industry and will call for action by citizens, fishers, and government officials in the interest of conserving the Queen Conch, a national symbol.”

She indicated the decline of the Queen Conch is one of the most notable effects of the increased local fishing; highlighting tourism and fishing are the primary sources of foreign exchange for the Bahamas as they contribute about $100 million to the country’s economy annually.

“This project seeks to understand the “Conch Crisis” from diverse viewpoints such as those reflected in government policies, the expressed social-cultural significance of Conch, the people depending on this resource living in Nassau and Sweeting’s Cay, Grand Bahama, and the conch fishing sector,” she said. “In the Bahamas, the conch is a significant part of the Bahamian culture because it is inevitable to come across a conch while in the country. It has been used for centuries for food, decoration, jewelry, bait for fishing and an empty conch shell is used as a musical instrument in the annual Junkanoo festival.”

Since 1980, she explained the country has seen increased fishing, which has become a major threat to the livelihoods of fishermen, vendors, restaurant owners, seafood wholesalers.

“While most of the Caribbean nations enforce a closed season for conch fishing, the Bahamas does not. The demand for conch has been increasing with time, and the local fishers fully capitalize on the mollusks, which has led to a significant decline of the conch population in the county,” she said.” As a fishery resource, conch contributes millions of dollars to the economy annually. We must use this resource in a sustainable way so that we will continue to benefit from it well into the future.”

Borden, who is from New Glasgow and is taking the thesis route on her Master of Education in curriculum and instruction, suggested the grant means that she will have a greater support system and a larger platform for sharing her research regarding the experiences of Black Nova Scotian teachers in rural Nova Scotian schools.

Her particular grant will be used to assist her in getting though the data collection phase of her research.

With “Exploration of the Experiences of Black Nova Scotian Teachers in Rural Nova Scotian Schools,” Borden indicates there is a marked deficit of scholarly research specifically pertaining to Black Nova Scotian teachers, yet there is a growing body of research in education which suggests recruiting, educating, hiring, retaining, and supporting Black teachers as integral components in the success of Black learners.

“Moreover, there is research which suggests that gaining a better understanding of Black teachers’ school-based experiences could help inform curriculum in teacher education programs, better prepare prospective Black teachers for what to expect when entering the profession, inform educational leadership of possible toxic organizational culture and incite positive change towards a more just working environment,” Borden said. “I believe that the bedrock in effectively realizing these endeavours involves gaining a greater understanding of the school-based experiences of Black teachers.”

The aim of her qualitative research is to explore the experiences of Black Nova Scotian teachers as they navigate rural Nova Scotian schools and determine how their identities as Black Nova Scotians has informed and possibly shaped their teaching practice and experiences in their schools.

“With that being said, Black Nova Scotians have historically been subjugated to and disadvantaged by oppressive systems and injustices based on their racialized and cultural identities,” Borden said. “And since our experiences are still entrenched in inequitable power relations, my research will take a critical stance.”

This project, one she suggests, is long overdue holds the potential to initiate a domino effect towards positively shaping and uplifting the future of Black teachers, learners, and communities in Nova Scotia.