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Release: Cynthia Hayes Scholarship Awarded to Rising Stars in Sustainable Agriculture

August 11, 2022

For Immediate Release

Contact: Laura Zaks

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition


Tel. 347.563.6408

Release: Cynthia Hayes Scholarship Awarded to Rising Stars in Sustainable Agriculture

Scholars exemplify Hayes’ commitment to racial equity 

Washington, DC, August 12, 2022 – Today, the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) announced that three students have been awarded the Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship.  The three student awardees: Rhema Meggett, Justin Walker, and Sydney Lawson were each presented with $5,000 to support their continued work in sustainable agriculture and bolster their commitments to promoting racial equity in food and farm systems.

The scholarship’s namesake was SAAFON’s former director, a founder of the first network for African American organic farmers in the US, 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, with an eye toward creating a brighter future for all. The scholarship program, now in its fifth year, aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS who are interested in getting a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree.

“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.

“SAAFON is excited to continue the legacy of our late founder, ‘Ma’ Cynthia Hayes, whose dedication to Black farmers and sustainable agriculture is epitomized by this year’s Hayes Memorial Scholars. As awardee, Sydney Lawson, wrote in her application, ‘to farm while Black is to constantly learn, build, and advocate for yourself and your community.’ We are happy to be a small part of supporting the journeys of Rhema, Justin, and Sydney, as they continue to learn, build, and advocate in this space. Black agriculture in the US will not deepen, continue, and strengthen itself without the passion, genius, and lived excellence of people like this year’s scholars,” noted Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, Executive Director of SAAFON.

“MANRRS is proud to partner with the Southeastern African Farmers’ Organic Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition again for the Cynthia Hayes scholarship. By linking hands with organizations focused on advancing agricultural policy and promoting racial equity within our farm system, our hope is that this scholarship helps to increase representation of minorities pursuing careers in food, agriculture, natural resources and STEM-related disciplines. This scholarship shows the commitment that MANRRS and our partners share to help everyone achieve their goals,” commented Ashantáe Smith, Business Manager of the MANRRS National Office.

Biographies and statements from each of this year’s winners are included below:

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 documentary. 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 the Tennessee State University and is 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 black local 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 pursing 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 that is 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.  


About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at: https://sustainableagriculture.net

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