Ten students received their Red Seal certifications in skilled trades this year by taking part in the Africadian Empowerment Academy.
The students were honoured at an event dubbed Pathway to Success, which was hosted by the academy on Friday evening.
At its AGM in March, the former East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA) officially changed its name to the Africadian Empowerment Academy (AEA).
“People saw the name and thought that it was only for people from East Preston,” Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, who is AEA’s president, said on Friday.
“And our programs had already grown and developed, and we were reaching out around the province, so we knew that we had to come up with a new name.”
Bernard said the academy’s new name was inspired by a term coined by Dr. George Elliott Clarke.
In 2014, the EPEA started as a traditional adult learning program, then expanded to include prep courses for the GED exam.
Thomas Bernard said while there are people still working on getting their GEDs, much of the AEA’s work has shifted.
“I would say the most significant work we’re trying to do is to work with young people to bring them into the trades, but also to work with people who are already working in their selected field in the trade to create opportunities for them to get the Red Seal in their trade.”
‘It’s very exciting’
“Tonight, we have the largest group of participants receiving their Red Seal, which is 10. Over our history, since we formed, this would mark, I think, 26 people who have received their Red Seals through the empowerment academy,” Thomas Bernard said just prior to the ceremony. “So, it’s very exciting. It’s newsworthy.”
Mike Jones was one of the participants and attended the ceremony with his 13-year-old son.
“I worked in the bars for a lot of years and it…it had no endgame to it,” Jones said in an interview just before the ceremony.
“I wanted to get something with a pension, job security. So, I kinda just picked welding, I was always interested in it.”
Jones went back to school for welding and became a registered apprentice in 2021.
He worked as a metal fabricator for a local company alongside Frederick Crawley from East Preston, who is now the project coordinator for AEAs Pathways to Skilled Trades program.
“Fred kinda got wind that I was registered, and he was like, ‘Come here. I know some programs that can help you get through,’” Jones said.
After Crawley helped alleviate some of his initial concerns about financing and having to take time off of work, Jones went back to school this past January and received his Red Seal certification in February.
“[My old job] was a good place to learn. I learned a lot there. But after I got my Red Seal, I’m now working at the shipyard,” Jones said.
‘It was like a family’
The Irving Shipyard in Halifax is also the workplace of a number of graduates of the former Pathways to Shipbuilding for African Nova Scotians.
That program was a two-year education and pre-apprenticeship program in welding for African Nova Scotian students and was a partnership between AEA (EPEA at the time), NSCC where the students trained, Irving Shipbuilding Inc., the province, and several other organizations.
Sattina Dabb said she was working for a hotel in Halifax when she heard about Pathways to Shipbuilding for African Nova Scotians and decided to apply.
“I was just tired. I wanted something new and a different change,” said Dabb in an interview. “I applied, and by the grace of God I got in, and it’s been a journey ever since.”
Dabb was also among the group of 10 recognized at Friday’s event. She returned to school and received her Red Seal in welding in May.
“I like the fact that it was an Afrocentric program,” Dabb said. “We were able to help each other. It was like a family. It felt like if one person was struggling with something we’d all jump in and help, and it was really good that way.”
‘Today we dream bigger’
Deion Parsons was also one of the 20 Black students who participated in the Pathways to Shipbuilding program alongside Dabb. He also received his Red Seal certification this past year through AEA.
“Most of us are still working at Irving Shipbuilding,” Parsons said during remarks he made to attendees at the ceremony. “I’m just real happy to be here and incredibly humbled by the experience.”
Parsons’ father, Noel Parsons, was in attendance and spoke with the Examiner following the ceremony.
“I’m very thankful for this program. Our son, Deion, was able to secure a good job. We’re now building a new home together. My wife and I are very proud of him. And this program’s made everything possible,” Noel Parsons said.
“He landed a job and he was able to fulfill his dream for us to live together, build a home together. We’re building one out in Hillsvale right now.”
Noel Parsons said the house will have an in-law suite and be home to him, his wife Samantha, his son Deion and his fiancée, and their three children.
Thomas Bernard said the program and academy are “breaking barriers.”
“We’re challenging the status quo. We’re creating opportunities. And the opportunities are not just for the individuals who are receiving their Red Seals, but it’s also for their families and also the whole community. Everyone benefits.”
In her speech at Friday’s ceremony, Thomas Bernard said AEA currently runs a number of programs for African Nova Scotians, including a new summer program for young people doing trades-related work, and a back-to-work program with both young people and “people who’ve been working in their fields for years.”
We want to encourage people to get rid of the self-doubts and to really believe in the possible. And what we’re doing is possible.
If you’re prepared to invest in yourself then we will surely be able to create opportunities and work with you to take advantage of the opportunities that we are creating.
When I think back to when we started as the Preston Empowerment Academy nine years ago, in the small room at the East Preston United Baptist Church, we were dreaming big.
And guess what? Today we dream bigger.