ELITE FENCER

Vincentian American Fencing Olympian, Nzingha Prescod.
Emma Trim

Following the conclusion of elections among elite fencers, two-time Vincentian American Fencing Olympian and East Flatbush, Brooklyn resident Nzingha Prescod has been selected as an athlete director on the USA Fencing Board of Directors beginning on Jan. 1, 2021.

USA Fencing said Prescod, 28, whose mother is Vincentian lawyer, Marva Presdod, was elected with 2012 Paralympian Cat Bouwkamp, of Fishers, Ind.

In August, the USA Fencing Board of Directors voted to amend the bylaws to increase the level of athlete representation on the Board from 20 percent to 33 percent.

USA Fencing said that Prescod and Bouwkamp join two-time Senior World team medalist Daria Schneider, of Ithaca, NY and 2014 Senior World Team member Adam Watson, of Hoboken, NJas the athlete directors on the board.

All four athletes will complete their terms after the conclusion of the 2021 Olympic Games, USA Fencing said.

The first African-American fencer to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships with a bronze in 2015, USA Fencing said Prescod was instrumental in leading the US Women’s Foil Team to three straight medals at Senior World Championships, including the squad’s first-ever gold in 2018.

A graduate of Columbia University, with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in race and ethnicity, Prescod is one of the founding members of USA Fencing’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Resource Team, USA Fencing said.

“She continues to serve as an instructor and mentor at the Peter Westbrook Foundation and is the founder of Fencing in the Park, a community-based, outdoor summer series in Brooklyn that introduces fencing to children of color,” USA Fencing said.

It said a total of 119 athletes voted in the election, which was open to all athletes who have represented the United States at the Olympic or Paralympic Games, Pan American Games or Senior World Championships.

Nzingha Prescod (left) at the 2018 Senior World Championships, Quarterfinals. Augusto Bizzi

USA Fencing said that athletes were allowed to vote for a maximum of two candidates in an electronic election conducted from Dec. 4-11.

In the complete vote count, USA Fencing said Prescod received 87 votes, or 73.11; Bouwkamp received 44 votes, or 36.97 percent; Susan Jennings 38, or 31.93 percent; Justin Tausig 23, or 19.33 percent; Dennis Kraft 13, or 10.92 percent; and Mario Rodriguez 10, or 8.4 percent.

“It’s an honor to know the Olympic, Paralympic and World Championship team members support me as a leader and trust me to represent their interests,” Prescod told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Monday. “It was a landslide. I believe I deserve the position but that doesn’t always translate to votes.”

She said that, from September to early December, there hasn’t been any Black representation on the USA Fencing Board of Directors.

Prescod said that lack of representation came at a time when the organization was facing “important disciplinary decisions regarding racial discrimination and setting a strong precedent to protect people of color from that form of mistreatment.

“Their sentence reeked of lenience and favorability for the offender,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that there haven’t been more voices of color to provide perspective on issues affecting us. I hope to fill that role and empower more people of color to join the Board, as well.”

As a member of the Board of the Directors, Prescod said she will be “one of the votes to decide on the policy and governance direction for USA Fencing.

“In this role I (will) not only make decisions but also have the opportunity to propose changes to the organization and make the case for why they’re necessary,” she said.

Back in April, Prescod said she inspired the start of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) resource team at USA Fencing.

“Since then, we’ve encountered some resistance and discouragement from having meaningful political representation,” she said, stating that the DEIB supports structural and sustainable changes that are “not an easy lift.”

While on the USA Fencing Board, Prescod said she plans to promote DEIB priorities, the first being to become a standing committee written into the bylaws.

She will sit on the Board from January to August, and will get the opportunity to be re-elected.

Since the Olympics were moved, Prescod said “it’s an abnormal cycle.”

Prescod, a two-time Olympic fencer, with five World Championship titles, said among her most notable sport accomplishments was becoming the first Black woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships when she claimed bronze in 2015.

In July 2018, she and her team captured Team USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal for the USA Foil.

Prescod is an eight-time World Championship medalist, the most decorated Black female in USA fencing history, and has ranked as high as no. 5 in the world.

In January 2013, then Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, now New York City Public Advocate, honored Prescod, who, the previous summer, competed in the women’s foil in fencing at the London Olympic Games.

Prescod, then 20, was a sophomore at the prestigious Columbia University.

Prescod said she discovered fencing as a young girl after her mother read a newspaper article about the prestigious Peter Westbrook Foundation, a New York City-based fencing clinic for youth from underserved communities.

After learning that several participants were competing in the Olympic Games in 2001, the elder Prescod enrolled both of her daughters in the foundation’s Saturday fencing lessons.

That same year, just nine years old, Nzingha Prescod said she held her first foil, quickly igniting her passion for fencing.

Having excelled in numerous extracurricular endeavors, including swimming, gymnastics and tennis, Prescod said she seemed “destined for athletic greatness.”

But she said her talents for fencing were even more apparent; she then received a scholarship for advanced instruction at the Peter Westbrook Foundation’s Fencers Club.

Since she was 14, Prescod said she has been competing in international fencing competitions.

She won the U-17 World Championships in 2008 and 2009, as well as the 2011 U-20 World Championship.

Prescod said she was also a member of many gold-medal winning teams in the Cadet World Championships (2007, 2008 and 2009), the Junior World Championships (2011), the Pan-American Games (2011) and the Senior World Championship Teams (2009, 2010 and 2011).

The young fencer has established Fencing in the Park (FITP) in Brooklyn, a community-based, outdoor summer series introducing the less visible sport of fencing to children of color that are unlikely to access it.

Prescod said Olympic, national team, and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes joined together to lead the sessions.

She said FITP has enrolled more than 40 kids from underrepresented neighborhoods, such as East Flatbush, Flatbush, Brownsville, Bed-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.

“Parents reported noticeable improvement in their child’s discipline, teaming, and focus abilities,” Prescod said. “Many also believe FITP lifted their kids’ spirits during an unprecedented period of isolation due to COVID-19.

“FITP provided them with a productive outlet to stay active while developing confidence, optimism and sense of purpose,” she added, stating that FITP is now fundraising and looking for space “to transition our kids to more competitive training.

“Any monetary or facility donations are welcomed,” Prescod urged.

Fencing, which is also known as Olympic fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is an activity using bladed weapons. It was one of the original Olympic sports at the first modern Olympics in 1896.

In more recent years, the sport, which has become very popular in the United States, is traditionally considered a European sport.

Fencing is divided into three weapons: foil, sabre and épée. Prescod competes in the foil version.

“I’m really proud to be a young leader,” she said. “To be effective, it really requires a savviness with words, both as a writer and as an orator.

“I think it’s incredible how much my life so far has resembled my namesake Queen Nzinga of Angola,” Prescod added. “I have been reading Marcus Garvey’s ‘Philosophies and Opinions’, and look to it as a guide. I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity.”

Her mom told Caribbean Life that, over the years, her daughter has “gained the respect and admiration of the fencing community.

“I’m extremely proud of her,” Marva Prescod said. “She lifts us all up to a higher standard of aspiration and integrity.”

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