Black history is our history

Véronique Russell (’16) celebrates resilient, empowered members of Acadia’s Black community as part of African Heritage Month

African Heritage Month 2022

By Véronique Russell (’16)

Black history shouldn’t be celebrated for only one month. Black history matters, and Black history is our history. With so much negativity in the media about Black people, we must be intentional about seeking our histories and learning about people who look like us and have achieved great things: Black writers, activists, politicians, artists, inventors, philosophers and, in this case, our very own Acadia graduates.

This year, I am excited to help share stories about four talented Black alumni. During their time in Wolfville, they became resilient, self-aware and empowered individuals through meaningful and memorable experiences, and are using their earned skills to impact the world in their own way.   

“Diversity is not about how we differ.
Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”
- Ola Joseph

You might recognize Maya Macatumpag-Murray from her stunts and career in the North American film industry.

Maya is a member of Acadia’s 2016 graduating class. Hailing from Richmond, British Columbia, she was a dominant force on the basketball court and transferred her athletic talents to the big screen. If you love action movies and zombies, check out what Maya has to say.

Q. Why did you choose Acadia University?

Maya: My physics teacher told me about Acadia. He told me about the rich Black history in Nova Scotia that I had no clue about prior to my conversations with him. Having not known much about Afro-Canadian history in Canada, it really piqued my interest about attending school in Nova Scotia. It all lined up when I had been accepted at Acadia and was in correspondence with Bev Greenlaw, the head coach of the women’s basketball program there, to play for the team as well.

Q. What was your favourite thing about Acadia?

Maya: Being able to find my voice as a young adult in the politics program. I was able to critically analyze the world around me and have the tools to learn about topics and viewpoints that I never would have come across in my life.

Q. Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

Maya: I played on the women’s basketball team. Being a student-athlete at Acadia was challenging and humbling. You learn so much from balancing your studies and playing a sport, with a minimum 25-hour per week commitment.

Q. Has your experience at Acadia benefited your current career choices?

Maya: Absolutely! My experience at Acadia, though tumultuous at times, shaped my life for the better. Working in the film industry, you deal with a crew filled with all different kinds of people with various backgrounds and skill sets. Every set I walk on has a different crew and cast. There are challenging viewpoints and narratives prescribed in each project we create. I am able to stand strong and firm in expressing my opinions in my work because of my education at Acadia, and my work ethic is at a level it never would have been had it not been for the Acadia women’s basketball program.  

Additionally, Maya offers future Acadia students some advice: “University is difficult and includes so much change and growth. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t get it all perfect. You can still be all the things you dream to be after a mistake or a bad grade. Be kind to yourself, move forward and never give up.”  

“Have a vision. Be demanding.”
- Colin Powell

Sehkahnee Reynolds graduated from Acadia University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. Born in Toronto and raised in Brampton, ON, Sehkahnee is a proud Jamaican Canadian. Upon graduation, Sehkahnee has called Wolfville home and is the proprietor of a local business.

A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussion, decisions, and outcomes for everyone. It was a pleasure to share an open dialogue with Sehkahnee and discuss why Acadia University holds such a special place in his heart. Want to be inspired? Continue reading.

Q. Why did you choose Acadia?

Sehkahnee: I chose Acadia because I was offered a football scholarship. I didn't even see the campus before submitting my letter of intent. From what I have heard, many other athletes have had the same experience and didn’t visit campus before committing to Acadia University.

Q. What was your favourite thing about Acadia?

Sehkahnee: I love how athletes are known in the community. Acadia is such a small school that we are treated as “celebrities,” and I don’t use that term lightly. We are influential members of the community for the next generation of Axemen and Axewomen. There's a culture of giving back to the community here and this is something I am extremely passionate about. Whether it’s a Breast Cancer Awareness fundraiser, the S.M.I.L.E. (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program, the food banks or Alzheimer's funding, the Acadia sense of community surrounds everything you do. I always enjoyed working with younger local athletes and helping with coaching and camps. These always made me feel appreciated, but also that I would be leaving a positive impact on their lives. I had so much pride wearing the “A” and I look forward to seeing the kids I coached wear their very own "A’s".

Q. Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

Sehkahnee: During my time in Wolfville, I was very busy. I played football for the Acadia Axemen, ran track, DJ’ed, co-founded the Black Student Association with Dena Williams, and led the Step Up movement at Acadia (a sexual assault awareness program). I was also a part of a Black panel to help create a more diverse and inclusionary community on campus.

Q. Has your experience at Acadia enhanced your current career choices?

Sehkahnee: I’m an entrepreneur and proud that I decided to stay in Wolfville and open up my own barbershop, Sehkahnees's Ascension, located at 2 Central Ave. I can assure you that the Acadia student body is getting the best of the best when it comes to haircuts. I opened my business because there was a need. With a growing population of Black students, it is often hard to find an experienced barber that knows what they are doing. With such a great networking community, I was able also to work with the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (VANSDA). Being a member of the Acadia community, our network has an infinite reach. You can travel anywhere in the country or the world and you will meet Acadia graduates. I can say with pride that I graduated from Acadia. We all have our own journeys in life, but our one connection will always be that we are proud Axemen and Axewomen.

Sehkahnee also has a special message for future Axemen and Axewomen: “Create your own path!  Enjoy your time and savour every moment. Time flies when you’re having a great time. Don’t be afraid to meet new people and make great connections. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Acadia has such a genuine approach to learning, and this has been reflected in my own life and career path. If you decide to go the entrepreneurial route, don’t be scared to invest in yourself and your own success. COVID-19 has only highlighted that a monetary income does not mean that you are ‘free’; chase your dream and research your next step.”

“Hold on to your dream of a better life and stay committed to striving to realize it.”
- Earl G. Graves, Sr.

African Heritage Month helps to shine a spotlight on Afro-Canadian, African and Caribbean history. As graduates, it is important to encourage people to understand where those stories started in order to chart a positive course toward the future.

Meet Joy Chiekwe. In 2014, Joy came to Acadia University from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia to study kinesiology. Since graduating in 2018, she has been working for Nova Scotia Health as a clinical physiologist and research coordinator. I chatted with her about her experiences at Acadia to find out how they led to her current career.

Q. Why did you choose to come to Acadia?

Joy: My sister, Chika ('14), pursued her post-secondary education at Acadia as well. She always spoke so highly of the school, and it made me want to join the Acadia community. In addition to having family ties to the University, Acadia has a well-known and highly sought-after kinesiology program. And the location was important too; I wanted to be close to home, but far enough away to have the university experience.

Q. Post-graduation, what have you been up to professionally?

Joy: I am currently working in health as a clinical physiologist and research coordinator for Nova Scotia Health and Dalhousie University. But my love for learning hasn’t stopped; I’m a master’s student at Dalhousie as well.

Q. What was your favourite thing about Acadia?

Joy: One of my favourite things about Acadia was the relationships that were built with my professors and staff. It was nice to be able to be a name and not a number in classes. Acadia is such a special school; we are lucky to have small class numbers with more hands-on experience. I never felt neglected and always cherished having the opportunity to chat with them about real-life situations.

Q. Has your Acadia experience benefited your career choices?

Joy: One hundred per cent! I truly believe that without my time at Acadia I would not be where I am today. Every day, I use lessons I learned in my courses and from conversations with my professors. Acadia also introduced me to great and successful individuals with whom I continue to collaborate.  

Q. Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

Joy: I played basketball for one year. I was also part of the exercise science practicum and Sports Injury Assessment and Management (SIAM) program, each which came with a handful of extracurriculars.

In closing, Joy offers some words of inspiration: “Do as much as you can! Although it’s a small university in a very small town, Acadia has lots to offer, and those same opportunities are harder to find when you leave the Wolfville bubble.”

“Character is power.”
- Booker T. Washington

As we highlight Black graduates, it is important to recognize that representation matters. It’s a good thing that time has been set aside to remember and recognize the often-neglected accomplishments of Black people in history. But a true remembrance, representation and integration of Black history must extend beyond a month of celebration.

Suleiman Semalulu is our final featured individual. Sou was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and raised in Gatineau, Québec. During his time at Acadia, Suleiman was not only making tackles on the field, but excelling in the classroom. He completed his BA in sociology in 2015 and MA in 2016.

Q. Why did you choose to come to Acadia?

Suleiman: I chose Acadia because I wanted to go to a smaller school that would allow me to have a more intimate experience with my professors and members of the community. Acadia is known for its world-class academics and small class sizes; this should be considered by all those wanting to further their post-secondary education.

Q. What was your favourite thing about Acadia?

Suleiman: The people and sense of community to which we were exposed. Even if you did not know every person you had a sense of familiarity with everyone in the town. This always made me feel safe and comfortable. I appreciate how people walked on the sidewalk in Wolfville. They were friendly and would take time to say hello. To this day, whenever I visit someplace new, I always observe how people walk on the sidewalk and I compare it to Wolfville.

Q. Did your experience at Acadia inform your career choices?

Suleiman: I believe it did. The professors at Acadia inspired me to focus on my education and to pursue a career in law. In particular, professors James Brittain (’04) and Claudine Bonner contributed significantly to encourage me to pursue a master’s and law degree. My experience at Acadia also helped me realize that I like to work in smaller working environments. I had the incredible opportunity to work at a national law firm, but I’ve recently joined a small private company in the senior care industry.

Q. Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

Suleiman: I played football for the Axemen from 2012-16. Football was a great way to become involved in the community. Athletes are held to such a high standard, and we learn how to persevere during the highs and lows of being a university student-athlete.

Q. What is one piece of advice that you would like to share with future Acadia University students?  

Suleiman: Your time at Acadia will go by fast. Every once in a while, take a moment to yourself to soak it all in. Appreciate who you are and how you’re growing as a person.

About the author:

Véronique Russell graduated from Acadia in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in French. During her time at Acadia, she was a member of the women’s varsity rugby team. After a post-graduate degree, she pursued a career in the financial sector and is currently a BEd candidate at the University of New Brunswick. Véronique continues to work and educate others about inclusion, anti-racism, and Black History as a Curriculum Builder and Workshop Speaker for the Get Real Movement.

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