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Three MANRRS students receive Cynthia Hayes scholarship


Three students have been awarded $5,000 by the Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship to support their continued work in sustainable agriculture and bolster their commitments to promoting racial equity in food and farm systems. Now in its fifth year, the scholarship program aims to support black and indigenous students within Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences. 

The Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship was named after SAAFON’s former director, a founder of the first network for African American organic farmers in the U.S., and an inspirational force in the development of NSAC’s initiatives around racial equity in food and agriculture. Cynthia was an ally in NSAC’s effort to increase opportunities for young leaders of color in the sustainable food and agriculture movement, intending to create a brighter future for all. Now in its fifth year, the scholarship program aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS. They are interested in working within sustainable agriculture and are committed to working on issues impacting black farmers. 

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“Like so many other organizations, NSAC benefited immensely from Cynthia’s wisdom and commitment to our work building a just food and farming system. Cynthia worked closely with NSAC as we very intentionally nurtured the next generation of leaders, especially leaders of color. It is our privilege and honor to acknowledge three outstanding student leaders each year who embody Cynthia’s passion for racial equity and sustainable agriculture. Her legacy lives on by empowering younger generations to continue this work,” said Kelsey Watson, NSAC Associate Director of Partnerships and Engagement.

The $5,000 scholarships were awarded to Rhema Meggett, Justin Walker, and Sydney Lawson by the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

Rhema Meggett is from Boone, North Carolina. Rhema attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and studies Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication. 

“My family’s farming history has had a large impact on my life. Some of my earliest memories are of being on the farm and picking corn, shelling peas, and hauling watermelons. During all of those activities, I was surrounded by family, and we shared community and conversation. My relationship with the farm has inspired me to be a better listener and a better storyteller. Hearing the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of my family, and especially the women, has sparked within me a passion for documentaries. I want to give voice to the untold stories within the farm community and allow black farmers to speak their truth. By expanding my social network, I will have a well of inspiration to draw from when I begin to tell the stories of the people through documentaries. I think my goals for this year align well with Mrs. Cynthia Hayes’ legacy in that I want to work toward the empowerment of black people and women everywhere, starting on my campus,” shared Rhema.  

Justin Walker is from Atlanta, Georgia. Justin attends Tennessee State University and pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Science with a concentration in Agribusiness. 

“Agriculture is constantly in our day-to-day lives from the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep. The lack of minorities in agriculture inspires me to be part of the change and become the representation that could change lives. Also, coming from an urban environment, there is a gap between rural world and urban world. Through agriculture, I am inspired to bridge this gap as urbanization continues to grow and urban agriculture becomes more prevalent. In 2017 my family moved to Savannah, Georgia, and this is where I graduated high school. Through the help of Cynthia and other black farmers in the surrounding area, I grew a passion for agriculture and black farmers. Every Saturday, my family would go to the local farmers’ market at Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia, to support the black farmers and buy fresh fruits and vegetables. In three years, Cynthia crossed paths and worked with in previous years the same farmers that my family would buy from through her work centered around land and environmental justice. Because of Cynthia Hayes and local black farmers, I was introduced to all the possibilities in agriculture, and I am devoting my undergraduate study and research to coming up with plans to help black farmers such as “Farmer Joe” and many others that I met at Forsyth Park in Savannah,” commented Justin.

Sydney Lawson is from Bowie, Maryland. Sydney attends Chatham University, pursuing a Master of Arts in Food Studies. 

“My dream is to see stronger food sovereignty developed within marginalized communities of color through a more centralized heirloom seed saving and trade system. I would like for farmers and civilian community members to have better access to seed libraries operated by the BIPOC community. Seed sovereignty is such an important aspect of resistance and empowerment within our broken food system and is critical to our sustainable future. I want to be a part of the movement redefining agriculture within the black community. I see myself working to integrate agrarianism into the Black zeitgeist, helping to excavate the past traumas associated with it, and transmuting them back into empowerment and joy. So much of who we are is rooted in agriculture, and I want to help repair the bridges from our past to our present,” said Sydney.  

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