In going back to school, Ngena Bernard was trying to change the course of her life and improve circumstances for herself and her children.
A single mother of four, Bernard had completed Dalhousie's Transition-Year Program (TYP) and was a recipient of the Dalhousie Johnathan Skeete Award. She was enrolled at Dal with the dream of studying social work when her life was suddenly cut short in January of 2015 at age 36.
"When she died suddenly, it shocked all of us," says Candace Roker, Bernard's cousin and a two-time Dal Social Work graduate (BSW '98, MSW '00).
Bernard’s untimely death from a heart attack left Roker determined to find a way to honour her cousin. She did just that with the creation of the Ngena Bernard Memorial Transition Year Program bursary for single mothers.
“I thought a great way to honour her and for her to still have a legacy was to create an award to help other single moms who are trying to improve their lives through education,” says Roker, who returned to Dal’s School of Social Work this past Saturday for the awarding of the inaugural bursary.
Leaving a legacy
The award is administered through the Association of Black Social Workers and funded through donations. The bursary is a one-time award of $500 available to African Canadian graduates of the TYP program who are enrolled in or doing prerequisites for a social work degree at Dal.
Recipients are allowed to use the award in any way they see fit, whether that is buying textbooks or paying the light bill. “Anything that would help them continue on their journey,” says Roker, noting that she’d like to see the award grow in size in the years ahead.
Bernard had worked as a daycare teacher and had been deeply involved in community work with fellow African Nova Scotians from a young age. Nia, her eldest daughter, and Jarvis, her eldest son, attended Saturday’s ceremony to present the award to recipient Katrina Jarvis.
Roker says it meant a lot that her cousin chose to pursue a degree at Dal, a university close to her and her family’s hearts. Roker’s mother, Wanda Thomas Bernard, is also a Dal graduate and has been a professor in the School of Social Work since 1990. She was the university's first full-time, tenure-track African Nova Scotian professor.
“My daughter took her grief and turned that grief into action,” says Dr. Bernard, who was appointed to the Senate of Canada last month. “It’s the kind of action we need to encourage even more of our alumni to take.”
Donations to the Ngena Bernard Memorial Bursary can be sent to:
The Association of Black Social Workers
1018 Main Street
(902) 407-8809 (office)
(902) 434-6544 (fax)
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