Awarded the prestigious McGill Scarlett Key prize
Chloe Kemeni: Builder of Black Students’ Bill of Rights at McGill University
As she walked through the campus of McGill University, Chloe Kemeni immediately noticed the relative scarcity of Blacks among the student body. Having grown up in Toronto in a predominantly immigrant neighbourhood where much of her early schooling exposed her to a fair representation Blacks, there was a certain level of comfort navigating the system, which just was not a reality at McGill.
She felt a significant difference being in a system that didn’t cater to the unique experiences and obstacles that Black students face.
“Because we (Black people) are so few in the large space it felt hard to cultivate a (sense of) community,” she explains to the CONTACT, during a recent telephone conversation. “Finding a space to be able to bring people together is very difficult if you don’t have another Black person to guide you. This was my first year experience until I met another (student) who introduced me to the McGill Black Student Network (BSN) ”
At the network she was able to get a sense of some of prevailing issues pertaining to Black students at the university and concluded that something significant had to be done to create a framework that would support their needs.
“Student governance has always been a part of my life since high school and I have always been passionate about advocacy and so I knew I had to create something concrete that would positively impact Blacks students at McGill,” says Kemeni who served as vice-president of Advocacy for the BSN. “The fact there is no dedicated Black Studies course was part of the things we needed to address.”
The discussions and advocacy at the BSN formed the building block for the ground-breaking Black Students’ Bill of Rights, which earned the 22 year old, widespread commendation at the university and beyond.
Her main concerns revolved around issues relating to recruitment of Black counselors, discrimination-free classrooms, as well as sustained funding for initiatives benefiting Black students.
She collected feedback through online surveys and townhall meetings from her fellow Black students to gain a better understanding of what their experiences have been and where they feel should be included to accommodate their needs. She wrote the main document by herself and got other mentors to edit it.
“I talked to some professors on campus to understand the Black experience from their perspective. The bill is divided into 5 sections, that deal with the services and entitlements that Black students should get within the school.”
The McGill University Black Bill of Rights outlines:
Caylah Cruickshank’s Newly Minted Master’s Degree
After completing a basketball scholarship at Tulane University then racking up two years experience in the front office of the prestigious University of Oklahoma athletics program, Montrealer Caylah Cruickshank is charting her path to the future with a newly minted Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA).
She earned her Master’s on scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, where she attended classes at night while working during the day as a graduate assistant.
She says her duties included putting in place initiatives to “educate, cultivate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders (to) embrace principles of diversity and inclusion.”
The former local basketball star who led St. Thomas High School and Dawson College, to several provincial championships before going to Tulane where she secured her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management says she’s not sure where that path will lead but remains “hopeful for whatever opportunity the future holds.”
Of course, with her strong academic background, post-graduate studies is always an option for Cruickshank but she’s also contemplating heading into the workforce.
The one certainty for the time-being is that the former Cote de Neiges resident will remain in the U.S. using the valuable network that she has built to explore employment or post graduate opportunities.
But as always, Caylah is quick to acknowledge the support and love that helped to chart her journey that started in classrooms and on basketall courts around Montreal to the highest levels of student athletics in the U.S. : “I could not have achieved any of this without the love and care of my support system. I am thankful for my family, great friends and community at home for always lifting me higher.”
Justyn Henry is on His Way
Justyn Henry graduates from Beaconsfield High School this year.
He says he is looking forward to attending college as he start to pursue his dreams of becoming an accountant.He says his plans include eventually attaining his PhD.
And he is confident that he will achieve it because he doesn’t see obstacles.
“One of my favorite quotes is: If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
LaSalle girl follows through on her dreams
Call her Dr. Naomi Brown
For much of her early life Naomi Brown has been nursing (pun intended) the dream of becoming a medical doctor.
She says she can’t be sure where that desire came from: it could be because her mom, Arlene McKnight has been a nurse after more than 20 years, or it could be her own lifelong passion to assist and care for others.
Whatever its origins, the dream came true in November 2019, when Naomi received her accreditation from Ross University School of Medicine, certifying her as a Doctor of Medicine.
Sadly due to the pandemic, her graduation ceremonies, which were to have taken place in Miami had to be held virtually on May 16, but she says it was still a very moving experience.
She told the CONTACT her accomplishments are even more special because for a moment in time she didn’t think it was going to happen.
“A medical doctor… that’s all I wanted to be all my life but when I started experiencing problems with Physics and Chemistry in Grade 10 and Grade 11, I started down a different path. I went into Social Sciences at Champlain College and Psychology at Concordia University but even before I finished the degree, I knew it wasn’t for me.”
So compelled by the urgency of her dream, Brown began doing the pre-requisites for medical school at nights while still at Concordia and working during the weekends.
She also started the long and arduous process of applying to different universities. In July 2015, she accepted at Ross University, at their medical campus in Dominica and off she went to the sunny Caribbean.
Looking back at her time at the med. school, Brown says as expected, the material was very challenging, but toughest part was “learning how to study again.”
“You see at that point I was out of school for a year, and I basically had to reprogram my brain on the proper ways to study.
But I think what might have been hardest for me was being so far away from my family, especially my mother who has been my rock and my everything throughout this entire period.”
Today, she is readying herself to make the move to Atlanta to start her residency at the Atlanta Medical Centre in family medicine, a choice of specialization, Brown says that has a lot to do with her personality.
“I had no hesitation choosing the path of family medicine. It’s just my personality. I love the rapport with patients and I look forward to be able to see them from the beginning and throughout (their ailment).
I’m also looking forward to advocating on behalf of my patients.”
Brown added that she will welcome an opportunity to come back home and practice but it’s out of her hand for now. She must first complete the three years of residency in the U.S.
A true community person, Brown, who was born and grew up in LaSalle, spent a lot of time at the Boys and Girls Club in the area during her formative years. It has since been shut down.
She says she is saddened by the fact that youth in LaSalle no longer have access to a community centre for basic developmental needs such as sports, recreation and socializing.
These days she helps out with the Leaders basketball program, which she says offers an outlet to some of the young people in the LaSalle area but is hoping that they will soon have access to a community centre as she did growing up.
Brown also prides herself on being a “Soca-head” so described because of her passion for the music of Trinidad and Tobago, native land of her mother. (Her dad is from Jamaica.)
“From Machel Montano to Patrice Roberts to Destra, I love them all,” she confesses. “True, I also like my reggae, dancehall and R&B and other types of music. But I love my Soca.”
Even as she prepares for three years in Atlanta, Brown she is looking forward to the end of the pandemic restriction when she can come home and celebrate her accomplishments with her “big family” that includes nine nieces and nephews and an army of cousins, and aunts and uncles and others as well as the entire crew with whom she grew up in LaSalle.
Community CONTACT joins with all in congratulating Dr. Naomi Safyah Brown.
As we would say down T&T way: ‘we proud too bad.”