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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 (she/her) @activistshelly is the Founder of UPlift BLACK. Shelly 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 marginalized 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.
Courtney Peters (she/her) @co.pete is the Director of Operations of UPlift Black. She is a motivated leader, teacher, and community member who embraces every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth. As a mixed-race Black woman, Courtney continues to fight against the anti-black racism that she has experienced throughout her upbringing in Barrie. Courtney is an accomplished athlete, scholar, and social service professional who integrates compassion, kindness, and honesty in every aspect of her life. Her passion and vivacity is contagious and motivates everyone around her.
Courtney’s passion for racial equity and justice stems from her sense of alienation in her hometown of Barrie. She overcame overt racism in the sporting community, and in the school system, despite her success. On the field, Courtney endured explicit racism from both fellow athletes and parents, while in the classroom, she was denied adequate support for her struggles with literacy due to the colour of her skin. She derives much of her strength from her grandparents and especially her mother who, as a white woman, often heard the racist discourse of parents and teachers. With strong mentorship from her mother and sister, Courtney embraces her responsibility as a strong female role model.
Courtney is a survivor of sexual violence as a young woman. Her experience with victim blaming, racism in the legal system, and the re-traumatization intrinsic in Canada’s approach to justice, drove her away from her dream to pursue law as a career. Courtney articulates her womanhood through her intersectionality, aspiring to communities who acknowledge and actively combat both codified and informal forms of physical and mental violence against women, and racialized women.
After graduating from Eastview Secondary School, and looking for an escape from the racism of Simcoe County, Courtney studied psychology at Griffith University on the Gold Coast in Australia. This experience sparked a passion for travel that has taken her to 5 continents; Courtney has lived in Australia, Fiji, Czech Republic, and Thailand. At the centre of Courtney’s worldview is the connection between the local and the global. In the struggle for justice and equality, Courtney brings a strong understanding of the how racism, discrimination, and prejudice operate differently depending on one’s geographic positionality. Her drive to strengthen the cultural diversity of Barrie remains strongly connected to her global citizenry.
Courtney has recently returned to Simcoe County with a renewed initiative and focus. She believes that Barrie can be a more welcoming and open community through community-driven action. With a strong work ethic, educational training, and life experience, Courtney is a driving force in UPlift Black, and an emerging leader in Barrie.
UPlift Black Board of Directors
Shelly Skinner. Courtney Peters. Trace Rapos. Sean George. Jessica Somers. Jessica Maharaj. Jessica Kelly. Gillian Scobie.
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.
Trace Rapos - 2SLGBTQ+ Advisor
I (he/him) am a part of UPlift BLACK because of my lived experiences as a queer, TransMasc, bi-racial/multi-racial person. Growing up I ALWAYS identified as “bi-racial” – a descriptive term most commonly used at the time. I was ALWAYS racialized, even within my own family because I was noticeably and obviously mixed race Black, unlike my white-passing younger brother. Having a white-passing brother made the noticeable difference in how the world treated me based on my appearance that much more apparent. It was most noticeable when we visited my father’s family, that I was treated as “Black” and therefore “separate” when I was with the white side of my family. I remember that we would sit at the dinner table each day as the newscast sounded on the radio that was placed above the fridge. It became our tradition to listen to the daily news as we ate dinner. Sometimes we would discuss relevant topics around the table – I enjoyed this because it kept us current and we got the opportunity to learn about the world around us and our relation to it. During political campaigns, it was personally exciting to come to the realization that I was a socialist at heart, but less exciting for my conservative parents. Not only was my dinner table a place to discover my personal political alignment it was also a place to learn more about my own family. Here I would listen to my mother talk about the people she would encounter at work, and I can vividly remember the agony carried within her heart when she would speak about her experiences at work when discussing her views on newscasts that would mention a “Jamaican” person being arrested for some crime or another. Her white colleagues would say to her, “oh he’s Jamaican, do you know him?” She was embarrassed and angry that she was asked and expected to defend the actions of random ex-patriots of the country she loved. She was constantly bombarded with defending the media portrayals of Black people, specifically Jamaican immigrants, at the time I felt her pain, the pain, of injustice so very deeply. She wanted better. She wanted to hold her head high against racism. She wanted so much to instill a sense of pride for “Blackness” in me but in the same moment excluded my white-passing brother. As a result of watching my mother’s fight I wanted to make the world a better, fairer, and more just place. Not just for my mother but for everyone who was oppressed within society due to racialization. As a child I regularly fantasized about growing up and joining the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary socialist political organization that was alive and thriving during my childhood. I held my head high and became acutely aware of every time I was followed in a store, or assumed guilty because of my race, light skinned or not. I was still PROUD and I was still BLACK. That is, until I came out as gay at 15 years old in 1982. When I came out, I was shocked at how homophobic the Black community, my community, was. I had family members tell me that “being gay was a white thing” because in their opinion being gay was something you needed time and money for. To them, only white people had that time and money, to them being gay was a luxury that Black people just did not have. I grew up hearing the harmful rhetoric that we as Black people had to be “better than that” and any Black person, who was gay, was a “victim” of colonialism. I was forced by my Black community to choose between Blackness and queerness. The violence and threat of violence that I experienced for being queer AND Black was shocking. All of a sudden, the white side of my family seemed closer to me. They didn’t care about my sexuality, so long as it meant I was “less Black” and as a struggling queer person I needed to feel acceptance somewhere, anywhere. The more I became myself, the more gay and ‘Butch’ I became, the more radical the shift from previous comments of my Black family members became. Uncles, aunts etc., went from “oh, Tracey you’re so pretty, and woodsy” to “it’s your mothers fault for not baptizing you, that’s why you’re gay”. They started inviting random Black boys to show up at the house whenever I was visiting, to try to win my attention. Some of these boys were sweet, some of these boys were aggressive. All of them were told that I was a tomboy who needed to be shown what being a “female” was. I was told more than once that if I had grown up in Jamaica and tried to be gay, that it would be alright if I was raped. Maybe this would show me the ‘right way’ to be me and exist in this community. My Black family, Black West Indian community, that I had protected and carried with pride, was more than comfortable with violently assaulting me to make sure I was straight rather than accept me as Black AND queer. I want to be a part of UPlift BLACK to ensure that the Black community of Simcoe/Muskoka and beyond, does not exclude the 2SLGBTQ+ community! These communities are forever interwoven as all oppression IS OPPRESSION, whether it comes from the larger society or within marginalized communities themselves.
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.
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.
Jessica Kelly - Administration
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.