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Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships awarded to sustainable ag students

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In partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is presenting scholarship awards to three students committed to working on issues that affect Black farmers and food and agriculture systems. Three students, Erniko Brown, Cyheim McRae, and Kristen Dunning are each being presented with Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships in the amount of $3,000 to help further their work in sustainable agriculture and with communities of color.

The scholarship’s namesake, Cynthia Hayes, was a founder of the first network for African American organic farmers in the U.S. and dedicated her life to serving these communities. Spending time on her grandmother’s farm in Kentucky as a young person, she learned about her family’s history of over 80 years of tobacco farming. This laid the foundation for the work she would spend her life doing.

NSAC, SAAFON, and MANRRS honor her vision with this scholarship empowering younger generations to continue this work. The scholarship program, now in its fourth year, aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS who are interested in doing work within sustainable agriculture and are committed to working on issues that impact Black farmers.

The Cynthia Hayes Memorial scholarships were presented virtually at the MANNRS annual national conference Thursday. Biographies and statements from each of this year’s winners are included below:

Erniko Brown — Columbia College

Erniko Brown is currently completing a Master’s in Organizational Leadership from Columbia College, where she also completed her Bachelors in Human Services with a minor in Community and Organizational Leadership. She also received certificates in Faith-Based Non-Profit Leadership from Wake Forest University, NC and Project Management from the Project Management Institute and is currently pursuing her Master Gardener Certification from Clemson University. She is the founder and Executive Director of Organized Uplifting Resources and Strategies, (O.U.R.S), where their mission is to be culturally responsive and relatable with resources that create self-sustainability for communities of color. She has devoted her life’s work to advocating for Black communities and has been working in the climate, environmental, social, & racial justice spaces for most of her career. Erniko is a native of McCormick, South Carolina, where she currently serves as the Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner. She grew up on family land that’s been in her family for eight generations, where she was raised by her grandmother, who saw the effects of injustice early on and taught her how to work the land and care for the environment. Brown is also a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Incorporated.

Cyheim McRae — University of Mount Olive

Cyheim O. McRae is a native of Bennettsville, South Carolina. He attends Shiloh Baptist Church where he participates and serves in many capacities. He is a Volunteer firefighter, works part time at a funeral home, and serves as National Member Relations Coordinator for MANRRS. Cyheim is an undergraduate student studying Agricultural Education at the University of Mount Olive and in the fall of 2021 he will be transferring to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. He is the 2021 National Membership Relations Officer with SASES (Students of Agronomy, Soil and Environmental Science). He hopes to one day be a hydroponic and aquaponic farmer and hopes to inspire other minorities to get involved in farming. In his free time he enjoys playing golf and joyriding. One of his favorite quotes is, “what God has for me, it is for me and no one can take that away.”

Kristen Dunning — University of Georgia

Kristen Dunning is a senior at The University of Georgia studying agricultural communication with a minor in horticulture. Her passions include community agriculture, gardening, soil health, herbalism, and agricultural education. She brings her love for plants to life in her herbal skincare brand, Gently. Gently creates herbal soap and skincare formulations for people with sensitive skin and common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and severe acne. Kristen is also a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Upon her graduation this May, she will pursue her master’s degree in Crop and Soil Sciences with an emphasis in Sustainable Agriculture at The University of Georgia. Her thesis project will analyze the ways in which US cover cropping systems can aid Black farmers in the fight against food insecurity and environmental justice. Her ultimate goal is to become a professor and teach courses about the importance of understanding the historical racial injustices of the agricultural industry.

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