Jonah Sisco has always liked keeping busy.
Growing up in Saint John, N.B., the first-year Bachelor of Science student spent his time coaching youth soccer, playing on his own team and juggling a part-time job at Walmart all while achieving grades in school that helped him win the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award.
Sisco is one of five students who hold the award named after retired King’s journalism professor Sylvia D. Hamilton. Hamilton is a renowned filmmaker, writer, journalist and artist, and University of King’s College Inglis Professor who has devoted her career to the places, people and voices that make up the Nova Scotia Black experience. It is an experience Hamilton has traced back to her own ancestors coming to Nova Scotia in the years following the War of 1812. The Sylvia D. Hamilton Award offers $2,020 per year to African Canadian students who demonstrate academic excellence.
Sisco’s soccer coach in Saint John has been a major influence on his life—he encouraged him to spend a summer coaching younger soccer teams, and suggested he apply to King’s, knowing Sisco would thrive with the strong athletics program and wide range of courses offered through King’s association with Dalhousie University.
Accepted to King’s and recruited to play varsity soccer in the upcoming season, Sisco learned about the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award from his new coach at King’s.
“I was on the phone with my coach who was like, ‘There’s an award [at King’s] you should go for, I’ll give you the details,’” he recalls. The details involved a short biographical statement outlining his intended program of study, general interests and future plans. “I remember sitting on the bus on the way home from high school, typing it up…. ”
Now at King’s, Sisco is once again keeping busy, having completed a successful first season playing centre back on the Blue Devils men’s soccer team. His classes are primarily science and math courses, but Sisco also looks forward to an African Nova Scotian Studies course he registered for. “My dad was excited I’m taking it because his side of the family is from Nova Scotia.”
Receiving the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award means he can devote his time outside of his studies to the things he loves. Eventually, he’d like to go into sports psychology, combining his passions for athletics and science.
“You meet with players about their mental health… how their sport affects their mental health and how they can improve their mental game.”
He grew close to his soccer teammates this year and looks forward to continuing to grow with them.
“We finished our season in late October, we came third in the league. We have a really young team. It’s majority first-years, so we’re excited for next year, especially.”
Shortly after learning about the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award, first-year Bachelor of Arts student Caleb Rennie did some more research into the award’s namesake.
“I could relate to her because she is a professional, creative, resilient Black woman. From childhood, I have been surrounded by strong, Black women in our family, who, like Sylvia, are tenacious, hard-working and seek to make a positive difference in this world,” he explains. “I also come from a family of many educators. This was another similarity to Sylvia Hamilton that was appealing. These qualities that I recognized were part of the reason I was compelled to apply for the [award].”
Rennie, who hails from Ajax, Ont., came to King’s following a year at the International Sports Academy in Cleveland, Ohio, where he focused on honing his basketball skills. So far, Rennie’s time at King’s has been spent playing on the Blue Devils basketball team alongside his classes. Receiving the Sylvia D. Hamilton Award, he says, has helped make this possible.
“Coming from Ontario with the expenses of university, without the support of the scholarship, I would likely have had to fit a part-time job into an already crammed schedule,” says the student, who was also named the 2022 Dr. Carrie Best Scholar. Rennie says the award and the scholarship, both renewable, mean he can focus on his studies and continue working towards his goals on the men’s basketball team.
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the support.”
He’s keeping his options open for now, but envisions going into business eventually. And, of course, he plans to keep playing basketball.
“I am proud and humbled to have received this award. It has been my goal for a long time to earn a university degree and to find a way to let that goal involve basketball. The scholarship is helping me make that dream a reality.”