W.E.A.N.: Connecting Black students to community and scholarship opportunities

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ADRIAN BROOKS
The new Black Public Library located at W.E.A.N. Community Centre, 717 Richmond Street.

Pastor Sandie Thomas has had many roles throughout her life: a paralegal nurse, a special needs worker, a teacher, a principal, and a grandmother just to name a few. She calls herself “a jade of all trades,” and it’s an apt title. Today, she is the Director of Public Relations for the Congress of Black Women (London Chapter) and the founder of W.E.A.N. (Where We Are Now) Community Centre.

An impressive and inspiring work history to say the least, but that’s not how Thomas describes it.

“You say, ‘what’s your bio? What do you do?’ Nothing. I just help people,” she said.

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Located at 717 Richmond Street, just south of Oxford, W.E.A.N. strives “to serve all members of the community with a focus on supporting and empowering the Black and marginalized communities by creating initiatives for equal opportunity and equal access to well-being, spiritual health and personal economic prosperity.”

Of the many services offered through W.E.A.N. and the Congress of Black Women, scholarship opportunities are available for Black students at both Fanshawe College and Western University.

Thomas highlighted the Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone Award, the Gwen Jenkins Scholarship and the Yaphet Robinson Human Equality Award.

“Kay Livingstone is the founder of the Congress of Black Women,” explained Thomas. “And this award, it is to remember what she has done for social justices for individuals. In 1992, the London Branch established the Kay Livingstone scholarship in her memory.”

The Kay Livingstone scholarship is worth $1,000 and is offered to Afro-Canadian students from the London-Middlesex area, who meet the selection criteria. Candidates must provide evidence of academic excellence, community involvement, and financial need.

The Gwen Jenkins Scholarship honours the late Gwen Jenkins, who was the founding president of the Congress of Black Women’s London Chapter and is offered to mature students who meet the right criteria. The Yaphet Robinson Human Equality Award specifically rewards students with a focus on human rights and community service.

“This award is….for the extraordinary services that someone will do in our community here in London, towards the further end of the human rights, and this award is given annually,” said Thomas.

Scholarship applications are not yet open, but students are encouraged to visit london.cbwc-ontario.org as well as their respective institutions scholarship sites for more information.

For Thomas, giving newcomers to London the groundwork to feel comfortable is what makes the work she does at W.E.A.N. so meaningful. The scholarship opportunities offered through the Congress of Black Women is just one way she’s making the lives of Black and immigrant students easier.

“An island needs things in order to be an island,” said Thomas. “There’s grass, there’s trees, there’s the sun to give the trees what they need. Everything has to work together in order to be successful. So even an island, it’s not all on its own. And so, with this scholarship, we are partnering up with Fanshawe and with Western to make sure that when students are coming in, they have the necessary tools to make sure they’re successful, not just for one year, but they’re successful through their journey, while they’re here to get their education.”

As Black History Month begins, Thomas also provided a reminder as to why it is important that Black and immigrant community members get the supports they need.

“It’s because of the disadvantages that has been taken because of systemic racism, the oppression that has been placed on a particular minority or particular group,” she said. “And now we want to flesh that out, and let people understand that there’s a safe space that we all belong. And so yes, unfortunately, we should be just focusing on the human race. I agree, 110 per cent. But because of these disadvantages that have been taken on a particular group. We’re focusing on the Black community, we have to make sure that they come into a space [where] they can thrive.”

Offering Black Londoners a place to thrive is exactly what Thomas does daily at W.E.A.N. On Feb. 1, W.E.A.N. opened a Black Public Library at the Community Centre and Thomas said that even more scholarship opportunities are in the works. To learn more about W.E.A.N., visit weancommunitycentre.com.