The first African-American woman to defend a doctoral thesis at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, is Salisha Allard-Blaisdell, PhD.
Salisha's body of work exemplifies the advantages that extracurricular activities can provide for young people who reside in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.
After breaking out of a cycle of poverty and childhood trauma, this historical achievement is a wonderful victory for this Grenadian.
Salisha recalls her upbringing in Grand Mal, St. George's, Grenada, as "simple and humble."
"I was born and raised in a poor family. We had food when I lived in mainland Grenada because my father was a farmer who produced a variety of fruits and crops. However, we did not always have adequate clothing and other necessities. When I lived on Carriacou, my sister island, there were moments when I had nothing to eat. When I was nine years old, my mother died. Then, when I was fifteen, my father died, and it affected me hard. I realized then that education was my only ticket to a better life," she shared.
After her parents passed away, Salisha was adopted by Ken and Sharalee Blaisdell and relocated to the United States. She made the most of her opportunity and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Brigham Young University-Hawaii, a Master of Public Administration from Rutgers University, a Master of Applied Leadership Theory from Northwest University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from Northwest University.
The Role of Resilience
“Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity. It's about never giving up and refusing to accept anything less than what you deserve. The 150 young people from Grenada who took part in my study reaffirmed my dedication to effective youth development. I should also mention how strong women are, especially Black women. We encounter one or perhaps both "gender" and "color" biases every day, but we continue to thrive,” said Salisha.
Salisha's resiliency skills she developed as a child helped her succeed in her advanced education. She openly acknowledges and highlights this quality in her studies and community participation.
Grateful For Kaelyn and Community
Salisha's daughter Kaelyn is a staunch fan. The 32-year-old mother's daughter is what motivates her most.
“Despite my difficult upbringing, I have been motivated to set a beautiful example for my precious daughter and serve as a role model for her. She, I think, had the biggest impact on my decision to complete my Ph.D. in three years. I wanted to spend quality time with her, but I also wanted her to see and realize that she is capable of great things. I advanced my schedule even though I was meant to conclude my Ph.D. degree in July 2023 and I began it in July 2019. This allowed me to study, care for, and grow alongside my darling daughter."
"I don't know where I'd be without everyone's help. My father's friend Miss Joan Hercules taught me to read in Grenada. By 12, I could read well. Edith Phillip and Wade Phillip from Grenada have supported my social and academic progress.
“Rachael, Kelly, Kim, Kendell, Nikita, Delon, and Ronzel, my Allard siblings, helped me reach this goal. Keri, Misel, Jeff, and Brianne Blaisdell are wonderful. I cannot forget Gloria Mensah, who believed in me before I believed in myself. I am forever thankful to my vibrant support community, named and unknown.”
Prioritizing Oneself and Getting the Favor Back
Salisha has come a long way from her early years in rural Grenada, but she still finds ways to acknowledge her past and move on by giving her mental health the attention it deserves through therapy and mindfulness exercises.
She is mentoring and inspiring a new generation of leaders who may have shared some of her childhood traumas, in addition to taking care of her own mental health. When she can, she speaks to groups and interacts with them about resilience, youth development, and leadership.
She is getting ready for her next chapter in academia and volunteer work, and she has ambitions to build a nonprofit organization, an orphanage in Grenada, as well as support the ones already there.
Where You Can, Help
Salisha counsels young women in the area to "ask for help" if they are feeling embarrassed or overburdened by problems in their personal or professional lives. She also encourages those who want to help young women in the area to think about mentoring.
"Mentors are important. My professional mentor, Dr. Rowlanda Cawthon, has helped me get over challenges in my personal, intellectual, and professional lives. No matter who we are or where we are, we continually need each other's support, hence I like the proverb ‘no man is an island.’ My academic success was greatly influenced by my chair, Dr. Thomas Alsbury, Dr. Donald Conant, and Dr. Rowlanda Cawthon. A vibrant group of Northwest University women leaders known as the Dissertation Warriors also contributed significantly.
"Find a young woman or two and mentor them; share your experiences, listen to their dreams, and help them realize them," Salisha said. “I advise striving to be the best versions of ourselves since children can learn from adults' morals in order to make a difference. I strongly suggest that we make every attempt to tell young girls that they can be whatever that they set their minds to. Finally, I think we need to strive for institutional or legislative changes that hinder women and young girls from reaching their goals."