The African Nova Scotian Freedom School was co-founded by Karen Hudson, Wendie Poitras Wilson, Malik Adams, Marsha Hudson-Ash, Venessa Brooks, Rashida Symonds, Kim Cain, and Rachel Zellars.
Rachel Zellars is a lawyer, professor, mother to three, and former school founder. Originally a farm girl from upstate New York, her family migrated from North Carolina and settled between Newark, New Jersey and central Pennsylvania in the early 20th century. She is a proud graduate of Howard University, and also received graduate degrees from Cornell and McGill Universities. Before settling with her family in Halifax in 2019, she worked and organized in Montreal for 15 years. Her areas of academic research include the histories of anti-black schooling segregation in Canada; migration and slavery in the Maritimes and throughout the Atlantic world beginning the 18th century; and the historical impacts of gender violence in the lives of Black women.
For the last three decades, Dr. Zellars has committed herself to community service, as well as organizing work that supports the safety, wholeness, and well-being of Black women. As an undergraduate student at Howard University in the early 1990s, she co-founded Oxala, an organization for LGBTQ students that embraced the rich spiritual and cultural diversity of Black queer students. She was mentored by Dr. Ibrahim (Elias) Farajaje-Jones, a radical Black theologian and scholar of Islam at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA before his untimely death in 2016. As a law student, she taught constitutional and criminal law at an alternative high school for students who had been diverted to the school as young offenders. In 2005, she lived in Nigeria and founded Safe Labor International, a charity that provided prenatal resources and infrastructure for pregnant women. In 2013, she co-founded the Third Eye Collective, a survivor-based collective committed to the study and practice of transformative justice responses to violence against Black women. She is a committed abolitionist, student of somatics and yoga, and humble life-long learner. She is passionate about the lives and wellness of Black children, as well as Black study, Black resistance, and Black liberation.
Karen Hudson has been a teacher, Vice Principal and currently is the Principal of Auburn Drive High School. She has worked in the field of education for the past 25 years. She is from the Preston Area of Nova Scotia and was raised in the community of Cherry Brook/Lake Loon. She is passionate and dedicated to addressing issues of inequality, social justice, cultural awareness, and educational disparity. She has a Bachelor of Education, Masters of Education, and a Masters of Environmental Studies.
Ms. Hudson is committed to giving back and is heavily involved in her community. Her understanding and foundation of who she is stems from her cultural work, direct guidance, and leadership within the Cultural Awareness Youth Group that she was involved in at an early age. She volunteers with the following organizations: the Black Educators Association (BEA), Africentric Learning Institute (ALI), Black History Month Committee, Indigenous and Mi’kmaq Initiative (IBM), and Cherry Brook United Baptist Church. She serves as the African Nova Scotian Representative for the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia (PSAANS). She was also one of the founders of Peer Tutors of Preston and is the founder of the Africentric Cohort at Auburn Drive High. She enjoys working with youth so that they have a voice, feel a sense of identity and self-worth, and understand their rich cultural history. Ms. Hudson loves learning about her cultural identity. Ms. Hudson also provides presentations on education, Africentricity and Black history. She is involved in raising two young men and loves her family and community. In 2019, Ms. Hudson was recognized nationally as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals.
Malik Adams was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is the son of John “Bubby” Adams (Halifax) and Sharon Adams (Truro). He is a graduate of King’s College (Halifax) B.A. (History/Sociology); a graduate of MSVU (Halifax) (B.Ed, M.Eds (2) – Curriculum, and Lifelong Learning/Africentric Leadership); and a graduate of Acadia University - Masters of Education in Counselling. Mr. Adams provides lectures and workshops on culturally-responsive teaching, as well as curriculum development and implementation in the areas of Black literature, African Studies, and well-being from Africentric perspectives.
He has worked with Black inmates, and staff, at Correctional Services Canada institutions in N.S. and N.B. He taught African Canadian Studies 11 and African Literature 12 and has worked on new “standards of teaching” with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in the province. He has served for 21 years as a public school educator and currently works as a Guidance Counsellor at Citadel High School in Halifax. Mr. Adams is motivated by serving Black communities, particularly youth, helping support their growth and brilliance, and doing what works for us!
Marsha Hudson-Ash is an advocate for the Preston Areas. She resides in the community of Cherry Brook/Lake Loon. She has been a social worker for Halifax Regional Centre for Education for the past fourteen years. She has her Masters of Social Work from Dalhousie University and is a registered social worker for the province of Nova Scotia. Her past employment involved working at the Department of Community Services. Marsha is involved with Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW), is a board member of Black Educators Association (BEA), past recreation chair for Lake Loon/Cherry Brook Development Association, a Track & Field official for Sports Nova Scotia, and also is a member of the Cherry Brook United Baptist Church. Her cultural identity stems from her involvement with Cultural Awareness youth group during her Junior and Senior High years. This experience molded her into who she is today. She was one of the founders of the Cherry Brook/Lake Loon tutoring program and is heavily involved in her community as an advocate for youth and educational concerns. She applies an Africentric lens and restorative approach to her social work. She is culturally responsive and cares about the social and economic well-being of children. She loves children, family, and is a life-long learner. She is a proud mother of two children.
Wendie L. Wilson has a Masters of Education in Africentric Leadership and has worked as a curriculum consultant for the Department of Education. She currently works as a public school educator and is an artist, writer, womanist and lover of community and culture. Born in Halifax and raised in the inner-city, she is the descendant of Black Loyalists. As an artist, she has participated in several local solo and group art exhibits. Her symbolic style of artistic expression is heavily influenced by her feminine consciousness, community and her ancestral roots in West Africa. Wendie proudly claims her heritage as part of the many African Nova Scotian families living throughout the province.
Rashida Symonds is a Black Indigenous woman from Nova Scotia, Canada. She is a faculty member at the Nova Scotia Community College. Her ancestry is Black Loyalist (1783) and Black Refugee (1812), Indigenous Canadian, and Bajan. Rashida is an educator, speaker, writer, intuitive empathic healer, community activist and counsellor. She wrote curriculum for the African Canadian Studies course used province wide at the Nova Scotia Community College. She has worked with youth and families throughout her entire career and is fully dedicated to enriching lives through therapeutic holistic connections. Her organization, AfricScotian Collective, is committed to community and youth advocacy, mentoring, skill building and working toward healing within the historic Black Nova Scotian community in various ways. Her brand, Mighty Royal Energy, is committed to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness, wholeness, and balance. Rashida is currently working on projects researching ancestral connections, as well as healing through Ancestral Spirituality in Historic Black Nova Scotian Communities.