For Joy Chiekwe, a number of factors and motivations fuelled the creation of the Black Wellness Cooperative of Nova Scotia (BWC). One was to fill a gap that was missing in the active community within the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“Bringing people together, sharing our health and exercise expertise with underrepresented communities, specifically BIPOC communities, is how it began for us,” she said.
Led by Chiekwe, the BWC is a group of Black health and wellness professionals who provide their services free of charge to underserved communities, including the Black community, in the province. Those services include promoting physical and mental fitness.
Chiekwe is a second-year master’s student at Dalhousie University studying kinesiology and focusing on “exercise science within the preferences, barriers, facilitators, and general physical exercise in cancer survivors of African and Caribbean descent.”
Her research is conducted by using exercise to lend a helping hand to cancer survivors and patients, while monitoring their conditions. Chiekwe’s most recent focus has been researching race-based discrepancies in the health system.
Expansion and community outreach
Chiekwe has been involved in the fitness industry for several years prior to founding the BWC. She’s shaped her vision of combining her studies and passions to create a welcoming environment for a diverse community.
The BWC began as a small group and to this day, the group has maintained their core members and vision. Now a wider organization, members plan to expand in the coming months through the Halifax and Dalhousie communities.
The organization was founded amid the COVID-19 pandemic and like many, the group found themselves in need of physical activity and social interaction.
“It was hard to find people who look like me,” Chiekwe said. “It began with a group of people who got together and talked about their journeys together and all hung out one day. I think the BWC resonated with all of us.”
The BWC has various committees within the organization itself. One committee works with developing various fitness programs for people with varying experience in exercise. A program it’s developing now is named “Introduction to running, yoga, or strength training.”
“We want beginners to feel comfortable and not feel overwhelmed,” Chiekwe said. “Our goal is to get younger people in these programs and to teach them properly from the beginning.”
The BWC has held pop-up fitness clinics and small panels at Dalhousie and other local organizations. The group of instructors and members are planning to collaborate with the community to create weekly and monthly events that are accessible and keep participants moving.
SUB: BWC’s, and Chiekwe’s, growth
Although Chiekwe has her plate full on the road to completing her master’s degree at Dalhousie, her ambitions go well beyond.
“We just want to get everyone together and get the people moving – understanding how physical activity improves the quality of life over time, that is our big goal,” she said.
The BWC has developed a substantial online presence through social media such as Instagram, where they can be found as @black_wellnessco. An official website is also in the works.
“We have made our online presence quite well known. It has been hard going back and forth between switching in-person events to online and momentum has been lost. We hope our in-person events will pick up again once restrictions change,” Chiekwe said.
Some of the videos and activities you can expect to see on their platforms include short clips about caring for your body, positive mental wellness videos and articles on ways to keep active.
Importantly, Chiekwe has continued to be an advocate for the Black community in Nova Scotia and those who don’t have the proper outlets to speak their voices. Her work with the BWC, she said, has been an important platform for empowering BIPOC in health and wellness.
“The Black Wellness Cooperative,” she said, “is in place to ensure and show people there are a lot of Black health care professionals and we want to help them shine.”