Black women on their success: ‘Without education you have nothing’

Speakers promote education, perseverance at annual Dalhousie event

Josephine Muxlow and Felicia Eghan shared experiences and advice with the audience in Dalhousie’s Student Union Building. (Photo: Katelynn Gough)

Being a black woman in Halifax can be hard, being an immigrant can be even harder, but gaining an education is the key to overcoming that.

That is what students at Dalhousie University heard Wednesday night at “Storied Lives II,” an annual event where three women of African descent shared their journeys with a packed room or more than 45 people.

The one message expressed by the women — one from the Caribbean, one from Ghana and one from Nova Scotia — knowledge is power.

Nova Scotian Perspective

Bernice McLaughlin, from Cherrybrook, N.S., served as secretary to help form the Beechville co-operative housing association in 1969. She’s also given decades-long service and support to many Nova Scotia community organizations.

Instead of going to university, she worked in order to help her family with the income. The only type of work she could get was in housekeeping.

The school she went to was segregated, resulting in minimal education. Still, she overcame her struggle and got her education at an older age. When she was 46, she decided to go back to school and received her certificate to sell insurance.

Bernice McLaughlin has been a community organizer in Nova Scotia for 30 years. (Photo: Katelynn Gough)

McLaughlin told students that education is the key to success.

“It’s such a treat to see all the young ones here who are continuing their education because without it you have nothing.”

“Life is service to others”

Felicia Eghan, associate professor in the department of family studies and gerontology at Mount Saint Vincent University, says her journey was a struggle at times.

Originally from Ghana, she arrived in on Jan.14, 1989 in Halifax, with $200 in her pocket and two children. It was a difficult time but she had people in the community who helped her. When she arrived, she was put up in an apartment with help from donations from the university faculty.

Education and perseverance are what made her successful. She now has a PhD, two master’s degrees, one diploma and three certificates.

She said she wants to make a difference, one person and one class at a time.

“We have power to change every situation in life and life is service to others,” she said.

“Find the things you’re good at”

Josephine Muxlow, a mental health nurse originally from Trinidad and Tobago, was quick to say that racism is not something that should discourage people and it’s no excuse for not getting what you want.

“You may want to think that people are being mean to you, but do not let that derail you from the road that you are going on,” she said. “You don’t have to say ‘Oh, you’re a racist’ or, ‘You are treated [wrongly] or discriminated [against.]”

When she arrived in Halifax, she realized that when she went to work as a midwife, there were no jobs. She learned to negotiate for what she wanted and overcame her struggle.

She told students that no matter what, they need to believe in themselves and what they want.

“Get your foundation, find the things that you’re good at. Those things, they’re like gold,” she said. “Because knowledge is power.”

Student Involvement

The night wasn’t only about the stories of the three women, it was also about celebrating the accomplishments of two students. Kuda Ndadzungira and Sabrina O’Neil were both awarded Dalhousie’s $500 Nora Hickson Kelly award.

First-year King’s student Nzingha Millar says she comes to these events when she can. For her, it’s about soaking up wisdom.

“Being a university student and having the opportunity to engage with elders in the community, we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of us,” she says. “ I really enjoy hearing the advice that they give us.”

McLaughlin, with a smile on her face, told students there is nothing they can’t do if they put their minds to it.

“Be like the little tugboat,” she said. “You can, you can, you can.”




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