Loy Excellentia Initiative Celebrates Black History Month in Canada

“Many individuals come here seeking educational opportunities, and what initiatives like Loy Excellentia do is provide a better chance to establish connections…"

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Loy Excellentia Initiative, Celebrates, Black History Month, Canada
From left: Sunday Franji (First Black Councillor in Brandon), Dr. Aloy Anyichie (Founder, Loy Excellentia Initiative), Jeff Fawcett (Mayor of Brandon), and Councillor Jason Splett at the event.

On Saturday, February 24, 2024, Loy Excellentia Initiative organized an event for all African/Black students at Brandon University (BU) and Assiniboine Community College (ACC), Brandon, Manitoba to mark Black History Month in Canada.

Loy Excellentia Initiative is founded by a Nigerian Canadian professor, Dr. Aloy Anyichie. The event was attended by over 50 African students, as well as Dr. Alysha Farrell (Dean, Faculty of Education at Brandon University), Brandon Mayor, Jeff Fawcett, Councillor Jason Splett, Brandon’s first Black councillor, Sunday Frangi, and Richard Azinwi (Vice President, Commercial Financial Services, Royal Bank of Canada).

The event started with the land acknowledgement and opening prayer by the Founder of Loy Excellentia, who is also an assistant professor of educational psychology at Brandon University.

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In her welcome message, Dr. Alysha Farrell expressed her excitement about co-hosting this event that brings together Black students happening in BU’s Faculty of Education building.

Keynote Speech

Delivering the keynote speech on the theme: Rising Together: Empowering African/Black Students to Excel Through Mentorship, Dr. Anyichie gave a brief history of how the Black History Month celebration started in the United States of America and Canada.

He highlighted the importance of celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of black people and black communities in Canada. Such celebrations “reminds us that Africans are born to be successful and excel wherever they find themselves and the need to rise together as one”.

He explained how his challenges as an international student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver as well as his award of the best PhD dissertation in Educational Psychology in the whole of Canada in 2019 was instrumental to his founding this initiative.

In his words: “Reflecting on my journey as a PhD student, the challenges and opportunities, especially the mentorship experiences and how they shaped the future that I am living today, I thought that it would be wonderful to create opportunities for African/Black Students to be able to gain the support they need to excel. I hate seeing someone experiencing a similar challenge I have navigated. That is the spark for the founding of Loy Excellentia Initiative”.

This initiative is founded to empower African students to excel through mentorship and support programs. It has three major components, including mentorship, workshops, and social events. Dr. Anyichie stated that the absence of any specific events tailored for all African students during Black History Month in Brandon community contributed to his organizing this event as a platform for the students to connect and integrate into the community.

 

Through Loy Excellentia Initiative, the African students of both BU and ACC, faculty members of both institutions, and community members are brought together for the first time in the same space to celebrate Black History Month and listen to the experiences of these students.

 

He encouraged the students to never forget where they are coming from and the African cultural heritage and values of collectivism enshrined in group goals, personal/interpersonal relationships, hospitality, resilience and hard work. He, therefore, charged the African students to come together as one and be empowered to be successful through the mentorship opportunities Loy Excellentia is freely offering them.
Student Representative from BU and ACC, Chukwuanugo Okudo, President of the Brandon University Students’ Union, acknowledged the challenges faced by newcomers, particularly in accessing health care.

 

“Our big concern has been health care and we have done our best to write to ministers, advocating that international students have the health card once more. Cost of medications and doctor consultations has been perceived as having a considerable monetary impact, leading to concerns about paying out-of-pocket for these services.”

 

A cross-section of the attendees at the Loy Excellentia Initiative event

He highlighted the reluctance of some international students to seek medical assistance due to the perceived financial burden, especially for checkups or prescriptions.

“We’ve done our best to send out letters and have meetings with some of the ministers and we are still hoping to get some meaningful response,” he said. “But for new investor students, we do have a student VIP health plan that we still offer to students, both domestic and international, to help cover some parts of the insurance.”

The president of African Students Club, ACC’s Student Association, Mubarak Adewunmi, expressed his excitement about the Black history celebration organized by Loy Excellentia. He, also, emphasized the challenges faced by newcomers, including housing, language barriers, transportation, and socialization.

Adewunmi was motivated to address these challenges at council meetings, after he gathered feedback from students, sending weekly newsletters to inquire about their challenges and how they want better representation.

“There has been progress, possibly due to pre-existing initiatives, in completing bus stops, checking routes for additional buses and housing…Currently, there’s an initiative on housing, where a survey has been sent to students to understand their housing challenges and what the school can do. These were concerns raised in council meetings, and I’m pleased to see that action is being taken.”

Messages from the Guests

Brandon’s first Black councillor, Sunday Frangi, says there is a need for excellence and unity among Black students. He encouraged the students to aim to be successful knowing that “To have something you don’t have; you need to do something you never did.”

Mayor Fawcett, who commended the Loy Excellentia Initiative, expressed joy in welcoming students from around the world to Brandon, whether at the college or the university, noting a significant change in this trend over the last generation.

“Many individuals come here seeking educational opportunities, and what initiatives like Loy Excellentia do is provide a better chance to establish connections… It helps students feel comfortable more quickly, giving them someone to talk to and encouraging involvement in the broader community.”

This, in turn, Fawcett said, creates a base of people with whom students feel connected, enabling them to be more adventurous and engaged in the community, which is critical.

Similarly, Richard Azinwi shared his own experiences as an international student in Canada about 20 years ago. He encouraged the students to always look out for mentors and never allow the mentorship opportunities created by Loy Excellentia to elude them.

Closing
In addition to meals and drinks, the students were engaged in different types of games facilitated by Dr. Ayodeji Osiname, an assistant professor at Brandon University. The students also had the opportunity to share their experiences as regards challenges and opportunities. There was also an announcement of door prizes and recognition of volunteers for the event.

In her vote of thanks, on behalf of the organizing committee, Dr. Onyinye Okeke, an Instructor at ACC commended the founder of Loy Excellentia for his love for education and commitment towards supporting international students especially those of African descent. She also expressed her gratitude to all who helped in organizing the event including the volunteers and all in attendance.

In his closing remarks, Dr Anyichie, in addition to thanking all in attendance, charged the African students to come together and form an association of African students in Brandon so that they can have a voice and support each other to succeed.
He was happy for the different people and institutions that supported the events such as Dr. Farrel, RBC, Westoba Credit Union and Slankit.

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Photo Captions:

1. From left: Sunday Franji (First Black Councillor in Brandon), Dr. Aloy Anyichie (Founder, Loy Excellentia Initiative), Jeff Fawcett (Mayor of Brandon), and Councillor Jason Splett at the event.
2. Some of the African Students in Brandon University in attendance with the founder of Loy Excellentia Initiative, Dr Aloy Anyichie
3. A cross-section of the attendees at the Loy Excellentia Initiative event