One spark of light

February 8, 2021
Donneil McNab, speaking at a Black Speaks event at Royal Roads. Photo/Mohit Verma/HERE Magazine

Nothing makes Donneil McNab prouder than walking into a room and seeing a group of people just like her.

“Black pride to me is seeing Black people excel in everything,” says the Royal Roads student engagement associate who graduated with her Master of Arts in Tourism Management in 2020. “Seeing them in that same room that I am in and seeing them sit at the same table I'm sitting at, that's Black pride for me.”

It’s an empowering feeling she wants to share with others, and it’s what motivated her to establish the Award for Diversity and Community Building, an annual $1,000 award to recognize students of Afro-Heritage descent who serve their communities through volunteering, applied scholarship or leadership.

“I don’t want to be in a position where I’m doubting myself”

In her predominantly Black home of Portmore in St. Catherine, Jamaica, McNab was never confronted with what it felt like to be a minority. Here, there have been times – more than she can count – when she scanned a room for Black faces and saw none.

“I'm very confident in my abilities and my skills but [being the only Black person in a room] sometimes leads you to question, ‘am I here as a token or am I really here because you see what I'm capable of?’” McNab says, who is a co-founder of Black Speaks Victoria, a platform to celebrate diversity and Black excellence. She is also a member of Royal Roads University’s Diversity Action Group, Anti-Racism Task Force and the President’s Steering Committee for EDI.

“I don’t want to be in a position where I’m doubting myself.”

And she doesn’t want others to doubt themselves either.

Destined for greatness

Financial awards send a powerful message of encouragement that take root in students’ academics, lives and future careers, says Amy Hinrichs, Royal Roads Advancement manager.

When someone says, ‘I recognize what you’re doing, I value what you’re studying, and I know you will make a difference. I want to support you on that journey,’ that can have a deeply profound and personal impact on a student.”

Hinrichs says this new award can be the first step on a very powerful path, especially in terms of leveling the playing field for disadvantaged groups that already have fewer resources available to them.

McNab knows this firsthand. An award recipient herself, she says it made all the difference to not only her bank account, but also to her confidence.

McNab, who moved to Canada in 2018, received the Beadle Family Award in recognition for her outstanding academic promise in the tourism and hospitality field.

“It just reinforced that I do have potential – that I'm destined for greatness,” she says.

She hopes the Award for Diversity and Community Building will help recipients realize that they are too. It’s a lesson her mother instilled in her from a young age.

Dawnett Walker, a single parent of two, never believed education was a luxury only for those privileged enough to afford it. McNab says on may occasions, her mom paid school fees for those who would otherwise been barred from sitting their exams. She helped people in her community pay their rent and medical bills, too.

“We didn't always have a lot of money,” she says. “My mom was the one who sent me to university, and she's been the one to finance both my degrees on her own. I just aspire to be half the woman that she is because she's just phenomenal.”

Finding new meaning in higher education

When McNab left home to study at Royal Roads, she packed her mother’s example of helping others, with her.

While her “first love” was tourism, McNab says she’s found new meaning in her professional career by applying her hospitality skills to supporting students.

“It’s fulfilling,” she says. “Having been an international student myself, I know what the challenges are.”

While she still dreams of running her own tourism business one day, for now, McNab is focused on success in higher education and continuing her advocacy work to amplify and uplift Black voices in our community.

“If this is one spark of light in somebody's life through the form of an award, and if it will help somebody feel a bit better about being in this space, and if it will encourage them to work harder and to just keep pushing, then I hope it will.”

You can contribute any amount to the Award for Diversity and Community Building or contact Advancement to learn about what’s needed most right now, and how donors like you are shaping opportunities for learning and growth.