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Kayla Grey and Alicia "Ace" West on stage at Sheridan's Hazel McCallion Campus for Black History Month 2024

Women in sports take centre stage at Black History Month fireside chat

Newsroom authorby Marianne Sy-LuceroFeb 27, 2024

Black History Month celebrations at Sheridan kicked off on a high note with an Evening of Inspiration with Kayla Grey, presented by Sheridan’s Black Excellence Committee, on February 8 at the Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga.

The event brought together students, alumni, faculty and staff and community partners including City of Mississauga Councillors, members of the City of Mississauga Black Caucus and representatives from the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) Foundation for a meaningful discussion centred on authenticity, self-worth and resiliency.

It also marked the homecoming of Sheridan alumna and Bruin, Alicia “Ace” West (Advertising ‘10) – a radio personality, podcaster and host of Ace and Marlon in the Morning on Flow 98.7.

Sheridan’s Vice President, Inclusive Communities Dr. Jane Ngobia opened the evening with her reflections on the 2024 Black History Month theme of Finding Home: Belonging & Community.

“This theme highlights the importance of creating a welcoming and inclusive community where all students, staff and faculty feel safe, respected and valued,” said Dr. Ngobia. “While Sheridan strives to embed principles of equity, diversity and inclusion into our policies, practices and curriculum, we know there is always more work to be done. We are committed to taking meaningful action as a community, which includes amplifying historically underrepresented voices, and platforming diverse viewpoints and perspectives.”

Following Dr. Ngobia’s remarks, Kayla Grey – an award-winning storyteller, personality, and host and co-executive producer of TSN’s The Shift – took the stage alongside West who moderated the evening’s conversation.

Kayla GreyRepresentation matters

When Grey was starting her career, she says she struggled to see herself in the media she consumed.

“It wasn’t until the second year of my secondary schooling that I really wanted to be on air,” explained Grey, when asked about the challenges she faced navigating her career. “When I had gotten into school, I wanted to just be a story editor because I hadn’t seen myself on TV. As you know, if you don’t see yourself, you don’t really think that you can be there.”

Finding inspiration in her idols, Lisa Salters and Jemele Hill, Grey eventually decided to try her hand at being a storyteller in front of the camera. “That was the first hurdle of confidence for me,” said Grey. “If there’s no one in Canada that’s doing it, you’re probably going to have to be the first, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Before joining TSN, Grey’s work with Global News and CFTK-TV News had the Scarborough native move to Winnipeg, and later to Prince Rupert, B.C. She attributes her ability to lean into the humanity of sports to the experiences she had living in Western Canada, recalling how it allowed her to immerse herself in the Indigenous communities that lived there.

“I was able to connect with a very large Indigenous population that I didn’t necessarily know back in Toronto,” remembered Grey. “That was something good for me as well, to get out of my own comfort zone and to learn real struggle that I didn’t think was necessarily getting coverage. I owe so much of that perspective to the experience of getting into this space.”

“If I could go back, I think I would be more open about being pregnant at the time. Because in sports, as a woman, you’re told you can either go full throttle in your career or you can take a foot off the gas and you start your family”

– Kayla Grey

Finding success as a mom

When Grey became the first Black woman to host a sports highlight show in Canada, she was also about to become a mom.

“I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. And I was just like, ‘Damn, this audience is about to see the first Black woman to tell them their sports highlights, and she’s also eight-and-a-half months pregnant and can barely breathe. It’s gonna be a great introduction,’” Grey shared jokingly while recounting her thoughts during this pivotal moment in her life.

Suddenly, it felt like she had to make a choice between her family and her career.

“If I could go back, I think I would be more open about being pregnant at the time. Because in sports, as a woman, you’re told you can either go full throttle in your career or you can take a foot off the gas and you start your family,” explained Grey. “I didn’t know that I could achieve both at the same time. So, I hid my pregnancy for seven months.”

Grey also noted it’s important to have conversations about empowering women who choose to have families and to let them know that they can still find success.

Alicia "Ace" WestWest – who shared that she recently became a new mom – said Grey inspired her to find the confidence to take on new roles. Early into her maternity leave, West was faced with the decision of whether to take a dream job, or turn it down.

“I remember I was offered the position as the [Public Address] Announcer for the Scarborough Shooting Stars. That was May, and I had given birth at the end of February,” West recalled.

West struggled with wanting to take on the challenge of the role, but also knew she’d have to be away from her young baby. “I just kept remembering, Kayla did it. I can do it too.”

As parents, Grey and West agreed on building a legacy for their children that demonstrates the importance of doing what makes you happy.

“If my daughter came to me years later and said she was faced with a challenge and she decided not to take it because she’d never done it. I wouldn’t want her to do that,” West shared when discussing her reason for accepting the PA Announcer role. “I want her to be like, ‘Ok, my mom never did something. And she just went out and she did it.’”

 
 

Defining and finding home

When reflecting on Sheridan’s 2024 Black History Month theme, Grey encouraged people to define what ‘home’ means to them and the feelings it brings up, then determine how to safeguard that feeling.

“Does that mean checking who you’re around? Do they fit within that ethos?,” challenged Grey.

“Setting up spaces, setting up conversations – having difficult conversations – in order to create comfortable spaces.”

As a host and co-producer of The Shift, Grey takes pride in being able to create a space where others can feel seen and heard.

“People think that being a really good journalist is how you present,” shared Grey. “Honestly, the best way that you can be a journalist is to be a damn good listener. That’s also how you can be a good leader. And so, maybe that’s how we can start to create really safe spaces that feel like home.”

“I think the most powerful thing I can do these days is say ‘I don’t know enough.’ And I think the worst thing people can do [is] act like they know everything.”

– Kayla Grey

The power of diversity

Looking forward in their careers, Grey and West shared insights on how they will continue to lean into the power of diversity in their roles.“I want to continue to push and grow [Flow 98.7] again. Get listeners back, get businesses back, try to be back in the community, and hopefully reignite the passion that other Black future radio media kids want,” said West.

Grey added that she’d like to focus on creating platforms for others to tell their stories.

“It’s about fighting for the liberation of all people,” explained Grey. “I think the most powerful thing I can do these days is say ‘I don’t know enough.’ And I think the worst thing people can do [is] act like they know everything. I don’t know as much as I should know, and one of the ways in which I can be active in that [is by] asking as many questions as I can and [actively] listening.”

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