It was an absolute pleasure to sit down and speak with a handful of current black uOttawa students and alumni about their advocacy, mental health, abolition, and social justice projects. It was an even greater pleasure to speak to them about their interests, goals, and accomplishments. Creating space to recognize black students’ work in the classroom environment and in their professional and personal lives is essential. These students work incredibly hard to make a difference in their communities through education, innovation, and community building. They are extraordinarily hardworking individuals who stay kindhearted, insightful, and humble.
As a series, “BLACK BRILLIANCE: A Love Letter To…” will acknowledge and celebrate the successes of young black students at the University of Ottawa.
Nina Charley is a biracial advocate, public speaker, creative, and student at the University of Ottawa currently entering her 3rd year of the Honours Conflict Studies and Human Rights program. She hails from British Colombia and is proudly ethnically mixed with Jamaican and Greek heritage. Nina navigates life’s challenges, the responsibilities of being an undergraduate student, and her passion projects with unwavering grace, humour, and empathy, allowing her work to impact others significantly.
She mentors and provides anti-black racism teaching resources at her former high school in British Columbia. Motivated to teach by her personal and lived experiences with anti-black racism, she aids students in navigating those experiences themselves.
We talked about activism burnout and its impact on student advocates’ mental and physical well-being. University life is synonymous with high levels of exhaustion; when coupled with the emotional labour that accompanies explaining the impact of anti-blackness in predominating white spaces, it is inevitable for burnout to happen.
When asked how she combats said burnout, Nina spoke about surrounding herself with individuals who inspire her to prevent creative ruts and provide meaningful encouragement in addition to feeling validated and reassured by the impacts she makes for youth in her community.
On several occasions, Nina has been publicly acknowledged for her achievements. She was one of the first to organize a Black Lives Matter movement on Vancouver Island. This year, the British Colombia government recognized her work in anti-racism at the Multiculturalism and Anti-racism Awards. In her hometown of Ladysmith, she was crowned “Ambassador” for community work and was one of the only persons of colour to win. On two occasions, she met and spoke with NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, to discuss activism on Vancouver Island and how the 2022 Trucker Convoy impacted students.
Her success carries on to other projects and media. Nina has participated in numerous panels, podcasts, and talk shows sharing her expertise. In February of this year, Nina was on a forum for the Telfer School of Management addressing issues for Black History Month, presented at the Women Who Inspire conference and the “Let’s Heal Together” conference by Heal Mind. She’s also been featured on The Jaded podcast speaking on mixed race identities, on The Vulnerability Talk Show, and published in magazines and local newspapers. In addition, Nina aims to use her Instagram as a resource hub for both’ BIPOC and non-BIPOC individuals by sharing mental health, charity organizations, news and public speaking events.
A love for performing later translated into an interest in acting. Nina has worked on film and TV sets doing background work and was cast to work in a Hallmark movie. Her acting experience inspired and complemented her passion for public speaking. She carries her devotion to advocacy into all of her projects. Recognizing that the dance and film industries are predominantly white spaces, she hopes to open doors and create spaces for more BIPOC in the arts.
“I made my younger self proud”– Nina Charley
Nina has accomplished so much by age 21 and has done so while studying, working, and experiencing life. Her work ethic, dedication, and resilience are inspiring and make me unbelievably proud to call her my friend and role model. We immensely look forward to watching her inevitable future success.