DeRico Symonds is no stranger to the Mount. He’s a Bachelor of Child and Youth Study graduate, former varsity athlete, and past practicum student with Counselling Services. He’s also a recognized, award-winning community leader doing incredible things for the people of Halifax.
An alum of the Mount’s Child and Youth Study program (class of 2012), DeRico is back on campus as a staff member in the role of Black Student Support Coordinator – it’s the second time he’s worked at the Mount since completing his undergraduate degree. In 2017, he completed a practicum placement with Counselling Services as part of his Master’s of Education in Counselling at Acadia University (he graduates this May and is currently completing his Canadian Certified Counsellor certification).
As Black Student Support Coordinator, a role that has been an integral part of the University for several years, DeRico works with and for Black students in many capacities. He connects students with resources across campus, and helps them stay on the path to success through support hours during which students can stop by to chat, and classroom check-ups that help students stay on track with their courses.
“I can empathize with what students are going through because I’ve been there,” he said. “There is an importance to being a visible presence on campus and helping students feel like they belong in the university environment.”
One of the ways DeRico is able to promote solutions and create systemic change is through the Mount’s new Students of African Descent Advisory Committee. The committee was created to guide the Mount’s efforts in support of students of African descent. Made up of faculty, staff, students, alumnae, community representatives and representatives of senior administration, the group’s primary goal is to work collaboratively across the University community to empower and engage Black students.
“There needs to be a global cultural shift in the visibility of Black students in academics,” DeRico said. “The Mount has recognized this and [the committee] is one way the University is committing to it.”
A passion for building community
DeRico knows that building community is key to promoting Black students’ success – a goal he notes is critical to his role. One of his priorities has been holding consultations with Black students on campus, which provide an opportunity for students to come together to voice concerns and work towards meaningful solutions.
“People need to feel connected to their identity here. They need to feel that this is a campus where they belong.” – DeRico Symonds
A variety of events are coming up on campus to bring the community together, both during Black History Month and beyond, including:
• Being Black in the Education System Panel Discussion, featuring Halifax Municipal Councilor Lindell Smith, Mount student Rex Charlton, Coordinator of Youth Projects and Initiatives at the Delmore Buddy Daye Institute Chanae Parsons, and local Citadel High School student Sophia Wedderburn. The panel is being hosted and moderated by DeRico Symonds. (February 11, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., Vinnie’s Pub. Free admission. Also available for viewing via livestream on the Mount’s Facebook page)
• The Hate U Give Movie Screening and World Flavours Dinner (February 13, 4:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Rosaria Dining Hall. Admission: regular dinner or meal plan)
• Outspoken Student Expression Event, featuring El Jones, Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at the Mount. (February 27, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Vinnie’s, email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up to participate or drop ins welcome).
• Black Business Initiative Business Fair, featuring local business owners and operators from the Black community (Date TBA)
DeRico is also working to connect the broader Black community in Halifax to the Mount through a number of events and programs. The Mount will host the Black Youth Institute Conference on May 23 and 24. This event, in partnership with the Delmore Buddy Daye Institute, will bring more than 180 high school students from across the province to the Mount to learn about and experience post-secondary education. On a smaller scale, the Mount will soon host students from Auburn Drive High and Prince Andrew High School to experience a “day in the life of a university student”.
“Black students in the education system are disproportionately disadvantaged leaving high school,” DeRico says. “We want to support those students and give them an opportunity to be admissible to higher education.”
Derico Symonds was the recipient of the 2018 Dr. Burnley “Rocky” jones Award. Picture (l-r): DeRico Symonds, Kajani Burnley Jones (grandson of the late Rocky Jones), and Tracey Jones-Grant (daughter of the late Rocky Jones).
Giving his all to giving back
DeRico’s commitment to community extends off campus as well. He has been honoured with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Century of Service Award, the Irving and Ruth Pink Award for Youth Development and Social Justice and was accepted to the 21inc 21leaders program. Most recently, he was recognized at the 2018 Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards with the Dr. Burnley “Rocky” Jones Award (pictured above).
Currently, DeRico manages Halifax’s Youth Advocate Program, which focuses on a variety of projects that connect Black youth to city resources, education, employment and community. He is also a member of the city’s leadership team on addressing gun violence. Specifically, he works on projects including the Community Mobilization Team Pilot, a project that aids communities in times of crisis, Crime Prevention by Environmental Design, and consultations about criminal record policy reform.
While the significant impact DeRico has had on his community is obvious, he humbly notes that his passion stems from a deep belief in and love for his community.
“No one person can succeed in isolation. I really believe in sharing your time and giving back.”