Meet the inaugural winners of the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award

Meet the inaugural winners of the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award

Reese Zorogolé and Darien Slawter have been named the two inaugural recipients of the Sylvia D. Hamilton Awards. The awards were established in 2020 in honour of the recently retired King’s journalism professor, Sylvia Hamilton, a celebrated writer, poet, filmmaker, visual artist and educator. Hamilton has devoted her career to the places, people and voices that make up the Nova Scotia Black experience, an experience Hamilton has traced back to her own ancestors coming to Nova Scotia in the years following the War of 1812.

Both recipients learned of the award through their involvement in King’s athletics.

Zorogolé, who is in his second year of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in the Environment, Sustainability and Society (ESS) program also plays for the King’s basketball team. It was Athletics Director Neil Hooper who told Reese about the award and encouraged him to apply.

“I encouraged Reese to apply for this award because I believe in him as a person,” says Hooper. “I can also spot a leader and Reese has those qualities and they will take him far in life. I know what this award stands for and I’m sure Sylvia will be proud to learn that Reese is a recipient.”

Slawter, who is in his first year of a Bachelor of Science (BSc), plays for the King’s men’s soccer team, and had been encouraged to apply for the award by Head Coach Jamie McGinnis, who speaks very highly of the rookie wingback.

“We’re lucky to have Darien in the program,” says McGinnis. “He is committed, talented and highly athletic. But above all of that, Darien is an excellent teammate with leadership potential.”

Reese Zorogolé: an activist in the making

Environment, Sustainability and Society student Reese Zorogolé is one of two inaugural recipients of the Sylvia D. Hamilton award.

“At this stage, I’m still learning,” says Zorogolé. “It feels like I’m an activist in the making.”

While his degree program and playing for the Blue Devils take up most of his time now, Zorogolé has an eye on the future. He sees himself being, in some capacity yet to reveal itself, a community leader.

“I know how important issues like equality are and I feel I will play my part to make a difference. A lot of racism stems from the lack of awareness of African Canadian history, so we need to keep circulating that information. It’s so important yet sometimes it can still feel like an underground topic.”

Zorogolé speaks with first-hand knowledge when addressing issues of being part of a minority in Nova Scotia, such as structural discrimination (“like police checks, right here in Halifax”) or the treatment of Black and Indigenous people historically. His demeanor tells you that he is serious about change: he always speaks of solutions and how we need to keep working toward them.

“I’m working in my own way on how I can empower my community, whether through basketball or working with young people or getting in touch with other young voices like my own. But it’s a challenge being a minority. There are things I’ve faced in my life that are not documented by anyone else beyond our own community. So it’s about identifying challenging situations, finding out what’s causing them, and working to change them.”

The two fields that interest Zorogolé professionally are also focused on positive change: psychology and sustainability. “If only everyone knew what we learn in sustainability class,” he says.

Darien Slawter: a solid foundation in education

Chemistry student Darrien Slawter is the other Sylvia D. Hamilton award recipient.

When Slawter received the email informing him he had won a Sylvia D. Hamilton Award, he was at home doing schoolwork. Excited, his first call was to his mom, Adrienne Glasgow-Slawter. A long-time high school counsellor currently working at Nova Scotia Community College, Adrienne was just as thrilled.

Today, Slawter is getting the most out of his King’s experience, even in the midst of the quarantine.

“While I’m doing my work remotely, I’ve really been liking the King’s environment when I’m there,” says Slawter. “And if the soccer team is any indication, that’s good because they’re all great people and they are people from all over. And of course, the award money is great, too. It helps a lot.”

While adept at soccer, Slawter also has a talent for chemistry—a key motivator in his choice to pursue a BSc at King’s. Also a prolific reader of sports journalism (many of his high school essays were sports themed) Slawter is considering writing-related courses as electives.

“It’s hard to say exactly as I’m still in my first year,” says Slawter, about future course selection. “I do enjoy writing, though; and along with chemistry I’m really enjoying my Economics class, so I’m also feeling that could be an area I’d like to study more.”

Sylvia Hamilton’s far-reaching impact

Retired King’s professor and award-winning filmmaker Sylvia D. Hamilton. Photo by Adams Photography

When asked about issues championed by Hamilton, his award’s namesake, Slawter is quick to point to his high school in Cole Harbour, N.S., Auburn Drive High School, for helping to shape his world view.

“I was very involved with Youth of Today at my high school,” says Slawter, referring to the group discussion program that was developed so students of African ancestry could gather with educators to learn about and celebrate African Nova Scotian culture and history. Now in its 24th year, the Youth of Today program has benefitted generations of students.

With this award now both Slawter and his mother hold a connection to Hamilton. Adrienne Glasgow-Slawter took a course from Hamilton in the mid-2000s, and that’s not all.

“I even appeared briefly in her documentary when I was an undergrad at Saint Mary’s in the early nineties,” she says, referring to Hamilton’s Gemini Award-winning 1992 film, ‘Speak it! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia.’

Meanwhile as Zorogolé charts his path, Hamilton’s work will be a fundamental reference and an inspiration, too:

“Sylvia Hamilton is on my reading list, that’s for sure,” he says. “And I want to see her films. I know she’s famous for her stories of the Black experience and our history in Nova Scotia. This makes me feel that much more honoured by this award.”

Future Sylvia D. Hamilton Awards

In future years, five Sylvia D. Hamilton Awards will be awarded annually. The award is open to African Canadian students, with a focus on African Nova Scotians, and will be open to students in all degree options at King’s with a preference for students in journalism and the King’s/Dalhousie MFA in Creative Non-Fiction.

Interested students are encouraged to contact the Office of the Registrar, registrar@ukings.ca, to inquire about the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award.

Additionally, King’s offers other scholarships open exclusively to African Canadian students, such as the Prince Scholarship and the Dr. Carrie Best Scholarship, which is open to African Canadians and Indigenous students in Canada.

Read more about financial aid and the scholarship opportunities King’s offers or contact the Registrar’s Office at awards@ukings.ca.

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