About Us

UPlift BLACK

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UPlift Black is a social service agency working to UPlift the complete wellbeing of Black people who live in Simcoe Muskoka. Our work is culturally based and anchored in 2SLGBTQPNIA+ inclusivity striving to achieve the ultimate goal of racial equity through a conscious community.

About the President

Shelly Skinner

Shelly Skinner is an activist, change-maker, and community builder. With her lived experience of racism, violence against women, and homophobia, she carries a story of inspirational perseverance, leadership, and activism. In recent years, she has established herself as a community leader whose influence resonates in the communities of Simcoe County and beyond.

Shelly is a dedicated community organizer and has lent her skills and expertise to support countless organizations, including RogersTV Barrie, Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie, Barrie Pride, Redwood Park Communities, Dress for Success, Ethnic Mosaic Alliance, the MacLaren Art Centre, and the Women’s Advocacy Committee for the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie.

She is also the co-founder of Making Change Across Simcoe Country, an organization that is focused on increasing awareness of Black communities in Canada through events centered around Black History Month.

Shelly is a powerful and inspirational speaker who has lent her voice to many organizations, including various high schools in Simcoe County, Georgian College, City of Barrie, Barrie Public Library, Ontario Trillium Foundation and EGALE.

Shelly is the recipient of the 2020 Barrie Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business “Woman of the Year Heart and Soul” Award, and was recognized as one of Barrie’s “Notable Women Who Have Made an Impact in Our Community,” by Barrie 360 in 2019. In 2018 Shelly was the first Black Queer Woman to run municipal elections in Barrie and though she wasn’t chosen in her Ward, she inspired more marganilized people to seek ways of getting involved in their communities to effectively make change and demand social justice and equity in their region.

Currently, Shelly is the founder of UPLift Black, an emerging organization dedicated to the visibility and economic development of the black community in Canada.

Overall, Shelly brings passion, leadership and drive to everything she does, and she is an inspiration to people of various backgrounds to become the leaders their communities sorely need. 

UPlift Black Board of Directors

 Shelly Skinner. Trace Rapos. Sean George. Jessica Somers. Jessica Maharaj. Jessica Kelly. Gillian Scobie. Sarah Downey

Apply to UPlift Black Board of Directors

We are looking for passionate individuals to help lead our mission. If you are interested in joining UPlift Black as a future Director, please fill out the form below.

Jessica (Lily) Maharaj - Project Coordinator

Photo credit: Paul Askett

Jessica (Lily) Maharaj (she/her) is a 26 year old performance artist from Mississauga, Ontario. She is the eldest of 4 children to a loving mother from Trinidad and Tobago. Jessica is a performer, teacher and student of dance and has always enjoyed working with children both in and outside of dance.

 

Her why is simply that she knows her purpose here is to help others. She has been judged for her sexuality, for her skin colour, for what others assumed her skin colour is and judged for the skin colour of those she chose to befriend. She knows that her personal experiences do not compare to the experiences of those that have experienced and continue to experience anti-Black racism. She believes in a world where global acceptance is the norm, one where young people being of service to their world is seen as the standard, the goal. She knows that there is lot that we have been taught that needs to be unlearned and she has no problem voicing it. Jessica wants to be an active participant of unlearning, dismantling and reimagining what is necessary for Black Communities to thrive and flourish. Being a bi-sexual woman of colour and a creative, her life would be unrecognizable without Black music, food, history, and culture.

 

Jessica has experience in team building, children’s programming, event planning and performing. As a Project Coordinator she hopes to create many new spaces and initiatives centred around movement, communication and inclusiveness. Jessica’s personal experiences with racism and her passion for making a better future will ensure that all events are created to UPLift Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Colour everywhere.

Yaa Deane - EDI and Education Coordinator
Chris Fee - 2SLGBTQPNIA+ Coordinator

Image credit: simcoe.com

Christopher Fee (he/they) is the 2SLGBTQPNIA+ Coordinator for UPlift Black. They are a white, non-binary, queer settler from what is presently known as Barrie, on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabek on Treaty 18 land. They have a strong passion for equity and fighting for the rights of others. They started their education at Queen’s University, but realising that their education would need to be more than just university (especially in an institution so gatekept as higher education), they started to seek out their own answers about gender and sexuality from popular culture; the books and stories of folx who were pioneering the way on social media and in the streets through activism. 

Standing in the crowd that day back in June, the biggest Barrie had seen in over 20 years for a social movement, Christopher realised that it was time to activate his allyship. Up until this point, allyship meant teaching, learning, sharing, talking. Now, they realise that it is also doing. Anti-racism and decolonization are verbs to them. There is Black culture and hxstory in Barrie, just as there is Queer culture and hxstory. Christopher plans to amplify both of those community voices through their work with UPlift Black.

The reason Christopher chose to work with UPlift Black is because they acknowledge the major impact Blackness has had on queer culture. They also want to honour the queer and trans pioneers and activists of colour who came before them and paved the way by standing on the frontlines of the fight for justice – Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde. Christopher wants to make sure that the 2SLGBTQPNIA+ community remembers why the Brown and Black stripes are included in modern Pride flags. They want to honour the immense aspects of queer culture that come from Black culture. They want to continue the legacy that their queer ancestors began.

Christopher loves designing Sim houses, hot showers and bubble baths, and his lil sweet Pomeranian, Poppy Louise.

@mixter.fee

@howtobequeerpodcast

pride@upliftblack.org

Sean George - Black Art & Aesthetic Coordinator

Sean George (he/him) is an artist, art educator, and cultural worker. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, and has lived in Trinidad and Tobago, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto. He is interested in the intersection between community, art, identity, and transformation. Why UPlift? Barrie is Beautiful – Black is Beautiful. Culture can raise awareness of most topics, whilst it can be alienating. George believes that this organization will meet the challenges and celebrate the diversity that Simcoe/Muskoka has already begun to experience.

Jess Kelly - Secretary

First and foremost I am a QUEER mother to a wonderfully quirky but challenging little guy. I love to write, and have excellent typing skills. I offered those skills to UPlift black because it was something I could do, a way to contribute. 

I have felt wounded by racism my entire life, particularly anti-black racism. I grew up with utterly vile racist men and I started speaking out against them the minute I learned how to talk. I have lived in Scarborough, Bradford, Newmarket and now Barrie and at every point in my life, no matter where I lived, there was racism, from subtle to blatant, and I never let an opportunity pass to speak out against it. 
The point that sparked the greatest outrage in me was when I realized just how different my experience raising my white son was from the experiences of my black friends raising their black sons and I couldn’t stomach it. I made posts, I argued in the comments on social media, I lost friends and certain family get togethers became very uncomfortable because I never stopped using my voice. 
Until getting the opportunity to work with UPlift black all I had was my voice. I am grateful to be a part of an organization that’s actively tackling the many problems caused by systemic racism; to be doing something more than just raising my voice.
Gillian Scobie (she/her) Director

Jessica Somers - Black Wellness Coordinator

Jessica Somers (she/her) @expiratejess is a Director of UPlift Black and the Black Wellness Coordinator. She is a multi-passionate leader, activist, educator, wellness practitioner, and certified yoga instructor (300 RYT).

Jessica was born in North York, Ontario, and was raised from age one throughout most of her younger childhood in the Cayman Islands, which is home to eight generations of her family on her Mother’s side. Her family moved back to Ontario just prior to her teenage years, first moving to Richmond Hill. Shortly thereafter settling in Barrie, where Jessica attended High School and College, and still currently resides. 

Having been raised in these vastly different locations over the years, Jess became hyper-aware of her intersectional race and gender identity from a very young age. Even in Cayman, where her family had lived for generations, the racist ideologies of colonization, gentrification, and whitewashing were very much the status quo. As a result Jess has just as many memories of being racially bullied and discriminated against as young as 6 or 7 in Cayman, as she does from her High School, College, and adult years here in Barrie. Through these lived experiences Jess has come to see the persistence and pervasiveness of racist ideologies, and their ability to seep into each and every corner of our lives and society, and has come to see racism as a pillar upon which our society, as it currently stands, is built on.

Through years of trying to unpack these internalized ideologies as well as achieve more well-being in her own life, Jess also has lived experiences of the level of white-washing, cultural appropriation, and spiritual bypassing that go on in the “wellness industry” as it has come to be known today, as well as in our medical system. She is therefore dedicated to helping dismantle not only the pillar of racism, but also those of colonialism and patriarchy, which also helps to uphold the current systems of inequality and suffering that rule our society.

 A survivor of sexual coercion and emotional abuse in some of her early relationships, Jess is passionate about delving deep with a variety of holistic wellness practices to help uncover and heal old emotional wounds which we tend to carry forward with us throughout life. Jess feels strongly about amplifying and uplifting fellow wellness practitioners of colour, as well as highlighting specific practices that are typically heavily appropriated from POC cultures, in order to bring these practices to other minority and underrepresented folks who may not otherwise have access. Jess enjoys geeking out about Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, conscious art and music, mirror-work, energy healing, self-reflection, and radical self acceptance just to name a few. She aims to bring these and other practices together to work through the damage caused by internalizing multiple forms of oppression, and transmute that damage so that those having suffered from it are able to heal and live their lives in their fullest and most unapologetically authentic expression of themselves. 

Sarah Downey (she/her) - Information Technology Coordinator

Sarah Downey is a mom of three kids and an Instructor at Georgian College.  With her website building skills, technical know-how and her drive to tear down white supremacy, she has joined the UPlift Black Board of Directors.

Sarah enjoys working on the UPlift Black Newsletters and building the website and helps as an admin for the Facebook page and groups.

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