Justine Colley-Leger BComm’14
African Nova Scotian Sexual Violence Community Engagement Coordinator at East Preston Day Care and Family Resource Centre
East Preston, NS
“Sometimes there are mountains you have to climb, but just take it step by step. Everyone has a story and we all have resilience, courage, and bravery…you’ve come this far, keep going!”
What made you choose Saint Mary’s University?
I went to Halifax Grammar School, across the street, so I was familiar with Saint Mary’s campus. Through that, I got a sense of the vibe and environment at SMU. I was also used to small class sizes, so I felt like a larger university would not have been a good fit. Saint Mary’s offered small class sizes, so that definitely factored into my decision. I also knew Coach Scott Munro, as he coached my older sister in the past, and I played for him on provincial teams while in high school. I felt like Saint Mary’s was the right choice for me.
What inspired you to start playing basketball?
I watched my older sister play basketball and my family has always loved sports. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a love and passion for the sport. I’ve heard stories from day care teachers of them helping me get the ball so I could shoot on the little net.
What is your fondest memory of playing basketball at SMU?
I have many great memories of the accomplishments we made: going to the National Championships for the first time and receiving medals at that level; and also, being undefeated in my last season until the championship game, to name a few. There were a couple of seasons that were challenging with injuries, and ups and downs; however, the last two years were incredible.
In November, you were inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. How does it feel to make sports history?
It was a great feeling to be recognized on that stage with the greats in NS sports. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but I was surprised that it happened so quickly. It wasn’t the first time I made sport’s history having had personal accomplishments, such as points scored per game and points scored per season. It was a very proud memory for me, my family, and my community.
You’re regarded as Nova Scotia’s greatest female university basketball player and have made a huge impact on the sport, what made you decide to leave the sport?
In my last season, I started to recognize that I was mentally preparing for my time off the court. Basketball was no longer my number one priority. I was always committed to the team, but I started to think less about practice and more about my family. That’s when I realized my mentality had shifted and I started to question if it was making me happy. I had other goals I wanted to accomplish outside of basketball. I always wanted to be a mother. Some women are able to balance basketball and motherhood, but I didn’t want to try to juggle doing both.
What was your career path after graduating from Saint Mary’s in 2014?
After I graduated with a major in finance, I started working for one of the banks as an advisor. I realized the corporate structure wasn’t the right fit for my values. That led me to my current position as the African Nova Scotian Sexual Violence Community Engagement Coordinator at East Preston Day Care and Family Resource Center.
What moments in your career (or personal life) are you most proud of/have been the most rewarding so far?
Out of all of my accomplishments I am most proud of my children. Professionally, I’ve been working on a project called Break the Silence NS. It is a website where you can go if you need assistance with any type of sexual violence. The website includes a list of where to get help, resources, tools, and online training. I assisted in developing the African Nova Scotian Perspective that is a part of the seven-module online workshop, that cover topics such as what is sexual violence, what consent is, and an indigenous perspective. It is the first time that Blacks have been given the opportunity to give their view on sexual violence due to systemic racism. The website is a way for community members to have a voice and to share their experiences and perspectives, but more importantly to show people how much we have overcome and how resilient our communities are.
Could you tell us about your role as the African Nova Scotian Sexual Violence Community Engagement Coordinator at East Preston Day Care? What led you to this position?
My role focuses on sexual violence prevention, community mobilization, and awareness. We want to make sure that young people are aware of what healthy relationships look like. That way, they can get out of situations before they progress to something traumatic.
Are you involved in advocacy or volunteer work that you’d like to mention?
Yes, I’m a volunteer with the East Preston Ratepayers Association. It is the voice of the community from a political perspective. We have community meetings to discuss challenges and advocate on behalf of our community. We have many safety issues and concerns, such as entering the community, speed limits, and inadequate shoulder room on the roads for walking. We have given our feedback and recommendations to the government, but nothing has been done. We have seen systemic racism in the past with Africville and other African Nova Scotian Communities. I will continue to advocate for my community until something gets done and we see some progress.
You have a very strong sense of community. How is that driving you in your current position (or volunteer work)?
I always make sure that people are aware that without the support of my community, I may not be where I am today. When I was young, I would fundraise to go to basketball tournaments and my community always supported me. Many of the accomplishments I’ve made and the platform I have, is because of them. Giving them recognition is my way of saying thank you.
Do you have any career-building advice to offer fellow alumni or students?
Basically, if it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. If you’re going to a job that doesn’t feel like it’s work, it’s a good thing. I’m helping people and I love doing that. Sometimes there are mountains you have to climb, but just take it step by step. Everyone has a story and we all have resilience, courage, and bravery. It’s about being intentional with your courage and resiliency. If you made it to university, you already have it in you. I’d say to students and student athletes, “you’ve come this far, keep going!”