Educator, social worker, author, therapist and community booster, Jennifer Slay chats about shifting perspectives, the power of connection and the changing face of London
JENNIFER SLAY HOSTS the weekly Rogers TV interview program What’s Up London and is a clinical social worker. She’s also a life coach, author and anti-racism educator. Since December 2022, she has been director of diversity, equity, inclusion and decolonization at King’s University College.
Slay grew up in Thompson, Manitoba and started playing piano at six. She taught piano for many years, but more recently her musical interests have taken her to the London Gospel Collective, where she sings. A Grand Theatre performance is scheduled for the fall.
She has three boys, ages, 15, 17 and 25, and a Shih Tzu named Rocky, age 18 months. She and her boys take annual trips, the most recent last year to Myrtle Beach.
Story Continues Below
You’re in your first year at King’s. What successes and challenges have you had so far?
I really enjoy the people here and appreciate that change can be a challenge. In terms of successes, I would say that connecting with students, faculty and employees the way I have that fosters trust and support — that has been a major success. The challenge I face is not uncommon to any other institution or business that is being intentional about incorporating equity, diversity and inclusion into the way they do things — it’s understanding that the Office of EDI is not only a place to go when there is a mishap or a concern, nor is EDI a task. EDI is a frame of mind. It requires a change in perspective and in how you do your work. The wonderful thing about King’s is that people, for the most part, are getting it and are very supportive.
Your background includes volunteering, social work, self-employment and work within large organizations. What ties all these experiences together?
In everything I do, the focus is always about how to support people in becoming the best version of themselves. I am so proud of all the businesses that I am a part of and absolutely love the work that I do. I also have the privilege to sit on boards like the Grand Theatre, to be a member of community organizations like the Congress of Black Women and Kiwanis, as well as participating in activities that bring joy to me and to others, like the London Gospel Collective. I truly love my life right now.
Your commitment to the community is obvious and laudable. Would you have followed a similar path if you had stayed in Thompson? Or perhaps moved to another city to pursue your education?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I left Thompson to pursue a post-secondary education — we didn’t have a university. I left Manitoba because I did not feel I would be able to soar. It was a great place to grow up — please don’t get me wrong — but I needed to leave Manitoba and go somewhere different. One of the things that I do miss about Manitoba is the slower pace of life. However, at 18 years old, I wasn’t really looking for a slower pace of life.
Regardless of where I was, I know I would likely be in an industry where I’m helping people in some way. That’s one of the ways I feel fulfilled — when I’m helping someone else. I may have pursued modeling or music as I really enjoyed and continue to enjoy those things. I would like to think that if I made it in those industries that I would use my platform to do good work for others.
Beyond informing Londoners about their community, what are your goals hosting What’s Up London?
Funny you should ask that. My amazing producer, Tim O’Neill, and I plan to talk this summer about spicing up the show in some way. I think the show has so much potential and would love to see some sort of collaboration with Tourism London and other organizations to raise the profile of the show. Before doing this show, I had no idea of the vast richness in events and businesses here in London. This city is believed to be very conservative and there is a misconception that there is not a lot to do. With immigration and people from other cities coming this way, London is changing. And I can confidently say there is a lot to do in London ranging from festivals to art shows to museum events to fundraisers and so much more. I’d also love to have youth guest hosts to provide them with opportunities in this genre of communication, and I’d love to get out into the community — not sure this will happen, but I can dream.
Story Continues Below
You’re a social worker, author, teacher, broadcaster and advocate. Do you have a favourite form of communication and interaction?
In-person all the way! I love interviewing, speaking, networking, facilitating with people in-person. The energy exchange is invigorating. My second favourite mode of communication is writing. I love to write, and I want to do more of it, which means I have to be intentional with making the time to do it. I find that I am able to express myself fully when I write. The second book is done — just doing some editing.
I am loving the work I am doing at King’s and the opportunities that have come from being here. I want to support the EDID office at King’s in becoming fully resourced and enriching the campus to support our students, faculty and employees to be, belong and become. I know that sounds so cheesy, but it’s the truth. King’s is often thought of as London’s hidden gem, and I want to support this campus so it is shining bright and known to be an amazing place to pursue a post-secondary education. Interview by Christopher Clark