First social justice award aimed at changing lives

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The past 10 months have been filled with wonder, travel, hard work and recognition for a New Glasgow graduate.

Patience Mpenzi came to New Glasgow with her parents and four siblings less than a year ago after spending 14 years in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa.

Within the short time she’s been here she has accomplished a great deal: adapting to a new home and new community, making new friends, studying hard and graduating from North Nova Education Centre.

The bright young woman has her eye on nursing and she will be furthering her education at the Pictou Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College.

Now, she has $1,000 to help with the cost of doing that, thanks to former NNEC grad Travis Francis and his company, Lucrative Apparel.

Carol Paris, who is the YMCA Child Youth Settlement worker for Pictou County, was instrumental in making it happen.

“I told Travis about Patience and how she’s only been here for 10 months from the Congo after being in a refugee camp for most of her life,” lauds Paris. “She came to Canada and worked hard and was able to graduate. I was so proud of her that I had to tell him the story. She is one of the students I got to know and love. It makes me proud to have been able to help in some small way to make this possible for her.”

Spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement Francis, who now resides with his partner and children in New Brunswick, wanted to inspire change by using his clothing line to change the way people think and view minorities — not only locally but globally.

He designed a hoodie and T-shirt to raise funds for the Black Lives Matter movement and donated a portion of the sales towards raising $1,000 to help deserving black and First Nations students at his former high school with the Social Justice / Leadership Award. Within a couple of weeks, he raised $3,000 from hoodie and T-shirt sales combined with donations. Patience Mpenzi, Tyrese Lawrence and Kalem Maloney were the recipients.

“I want to use my clothing as a platform for change,” Francis says by phone. I just want to impact the younger generations.”

He explains his reasoning for developing the award this was on his Facebook page: “I see racism everyday not only in Nova Scotia but also New Brunswick; before I would always brush it under the rug with my hockey friends or skate boarding friends but now that I’m older I wish I said something when I was younger. I know racism is learned and taught and most people don’t even realize they’re being racist because it’s just how they were bought up and the norm in their household. We have the ability to change this by what we teach our children. Please, I’m asking you from the bottom of my heart to teach your children to be nice to all colours and all cultures that surround us. We are the future and we must get away from treating the Indigenous and African communities so poorly.”

Mpenzi was beaming when she accepted the award.

“I was so surprised,” she says. “Of all the students I thought, ‘why me?’ I was very happy.” Mpenzi will use the money to help pay for school.

The future is bright for Mpenzi who is humbled by the award. “Although I didn’t meet the person who made this possible, may God bless him,” she beamed.

Carol Paris, YMCA Child Youth Settlement worker for Pictou County, presents $1,000 to Patience Mpenzi. The graduate of North Nova Education Centre received the award from former NNEC grad Travis Francis and his company Lucrative Apparel who created a Social Justice / Leadership Award to support the Black Lives Matter movement. (Jardine photo)