CBC highlights stories of black Canadian immigrants to share the joys and obstacles in their journey to black excellence. From her first steps in Canada to the moments that shaped her life. These are their journeys here.
Evelyne Nyairo, who came to Edmonton from Kenya in 1996, faced many challenges before becoming a successful biochemist.
Nyairo was the only black student in her university program, which she says “wasn’t easy.”
“I mean, you won’t see black people these days,” Nyairo said. “I remember, you know, you’d take the bus and go months and months without seeing anyone black.”
She dropped out of her freshman year because of “cultural differences,” but eventually graduated in biology and chemistry around the same time she learned she was pregnant with her daughter.
Nyairo, who said her childhood dream was to become a “great scientist,” later pursued a career as a biochemist in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
After suffering a downturn in 2008, this industry started thinking about how to return to Africa.
On a work-related field trip to Chad in 2011, Nyairo realized she wanted to make a major career change to focus on gender equality.
While living in the countryside, she experienced and experienced severe gender inequality, which brought back memories of her own experiences of discrimination.
“That moment took me back to the boardrooms in Calgary, in Houston, in Paris and all these places that I’d been,” Nyairo said. “Most of the time I was the only black woman in the boardroom.”
“And I said, ‘You know, I can’t just keep being in the groups of women in science, women in engineering. I’m going to start something to have meaningful conversations about gender equality.’ “
While in Chad, Nyairo was struck by the “beautiful skin” of women there and decided to use her experience to create a women-led skincare line.
Named after her daughter, Ellie Bianca, the line makes natural and sustainable beauty products ranging from lip balms to bath salts.
“We didn’t want to just build any skincare line,” Nyairo said. “We just wanted something that would really leave a legacy. Our company is entirely female-owned, female-led…kind to the earth…and kind to women.”
Their products have now made it onto the shelves of some of Canada’s largest retailers, including Whole Foods and Hudson’s Bay.
Being Black in Canada: My Journey Here is a special series in which black Canadian immigrants share the joys and obstacles in their journey to black excellence. From her first steps in Canada to the moments that shaped her life.