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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 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
President: Shelly Skinner
Board Chair: Ramona Yaa Deane
Board: Trace Rapos. Laura Flynn-Northcote. Mark McKee. Amy Thibodeau. Sarah Downey
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.
Mark McKee (he/him) - Board Member and Communications Director
Originally from Montreal PQ, Mark now lives in Victoria British Columbia. Being of mixed decent (Black Father and White Mother), Mark met the many racial challenges that he faced with the grace that had been bestowed upon him by the only two true parents in his life, his mother and Godmother. Growing up in a lower income family also brought with it the challenges of experiencing ongoing spousal abuse directed at his mother which was an integral part in Mark’s current and long-standing activism against any forms of abuse.
For the last 25 years, Mark has worked in the Facilities Management field with several large companies and industries which included Education and Health Care. During these years, he was able to take advantage of many learning opportunities through his previous employer Sodexo Canada. From 2019 to 2020 Mark successfully attained a degree in Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion from Centennial College and coordinated with CCDI (Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion) for years during his previous work/volunteer-related roles.
Once involved in Diversity and Inclusion, it was clear that these ideologies were shaping both his view of himself and the world around him. With an improved understanding of multiple forms of Bias, Mark has worked tirelessly towards equity and equality with an emphasis on empathy.
Mark also attained his Yellow belt certification in Lean Six Sigma which brought a new understanding to data driven results within organizations through increased performance/decreased processes.
Growing up in Montreal, Mark was an active member of the music community and performed across Canada and the US even after moving to Western Canada in 1992.
Mark is currently a writer/performer of original music in a home-based recording studio and is also the president of “Big Gallootson Publishing” named in memory of his best buddy and companion, his dog Bear (Big Gallootson was his nickname).
Laura Flynn Northcote (she/her) - Treasurer
Laura has a background in social policy and a long-time interest in addressing issues of inequity. With a master’s degree in demography and social policy, Laura worked for many years at the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and was particularly inspired by work that focused on providing access to positive opportunities for all children and youth. She currently provides bookkeeping and administrative support for a small business she owns with her husband.
A local resident and mother of three young children, Laura is grateful for the opportunity to provide bookkeeping and finance support to UPlift Black and to support the Board in whatever way she can to make meaningful change in our community.
Natasha Shakespeare (she/her) - Advocacy Council Chair and Founder of Parents Against Racism Simcoe Advisory Council
I grew up in Simcoe County, only leaving to pursue post-secondary education, then returned to the area to continue my career and raise my family. Growing up as a Black girl in a predominately White town my experiences with racism are not unique. I still encounter racism although I have now come to place in my journey that I am comfortable being an advocate and have realized it was a hidden passion of mine. Both my career and my master’s degree combined with my lived experienced have prepared me for the work that needs to be done in our community. I am committed to my community and I look forward to contributing to Uplift Black.
Gwyn Beaver (she/her) - Art Director
Gwyn Beaver is a native of Texas and has lived in Canada since 2004. Gwyn is
a vocal instructor who holds a Master’s degree in vocal performance from the
University of Oklahoma. She is also the owner of A Taste of Soul! which
features cuisine of the southern United States.
Gwyn has been a featured artist with the Montréal Jubilation Choir and has
worked with various jazz artists based in Montréal. In addition to singing jazz,
Gwyn continues to present concerts in the classical/operatic genre. She has
performed with the l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Jongleur Opera, Fort
Worth Opera, Cimarron Circuit Opera and was an apprentice with the Houston
Gwyn’s theatre credits include Quarter Century Theatre, Newmarket National
Play Festival, as well as university and community theatres in Texas, Oklahoma
and Québec. On-camera credits include work with ELD Films, Les Enfants
Production, Montréal Casting and See No Evil (TV series). She is an apprentice
with the Union des Artistes and is represented by The Casting Solution.
Jessica (Lily) Maharaj (she/her) - Movement Artist
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.
Tomika McIntosh (she/her) - Wellness Coordinator
Tomika McIntosh is an ongoing learner passionate about people and creating equitable opportunities for underrepresented groups and communities. As a scholar, former student-athlete, educator and change-maker, Tomika’s life has been grounded in building trusting relationships and authentic connections, leading through health and wellness. For Tomika soccer has been more than just a game, it has provided her with lasting friendships, numerous opportunities, challenges and failures. The experience taught Tomika many lessons in communication, leadership, resilience, and the equal importance of mental and physical health and wellness. To maintain balance and mindfulness in her life Tomika leans into the practices of yoga and meditation, as well as the support of her loved ones.
Tomika’s own unique experiences in the undiversified spaces of the wellness sector, including a lack of people with whom she could racially identify, drives her passion for increasing spaces for mindful conversations focused on BIPOC; with an emphasis on expanding representation, awareness and education about Black wellness. One of her long-term goals is to open Wellness Centers within underserved communities to increase accessibility to wellness resources. She believes health and wellness should not be perceived as a privilege, but fundamental to the overall wellbeing of the mind, body and spirit!
Yaa Deane (she/her) - Board Chair
Elijah Cudjo (he/him) Office Assistant
Elijah and his family moved to the Simcoe County area in 2018 from Montréal, QC. Elijah was born in Denver, Colorado and spent most of his childhood in Texas. He is a graduate of Summit School (École le Sommet) and participates in Special Olympics. He is a member of the Colllingwood Eagles, and competes in the areas of baseball, bowling and basketball.
Erika Campbell (she/her) - Member of the Grants, Research, and Writing Team
Sean George (he/him) - Arts Consultant
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.
Theresa Lau-Dickinson (she/her) - UPlift Education Assistant
A dreamer and a believer. A proud first-generation Chinese-Canadian. A mama, a wife and educator speaking up against racism and oppression.
Chris Fee (they/he/she) Volunteer
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.
Gillian Scobie (she/her) - Program Director and Board Member
Rachel Luk (she/her) - Mental Health Coordinator
Rachel Luk is a current social work student who is devoted to creating equitable opportunities to access mental health services for and with marginalized populations. Rachel recognizes not only the need for culturally sensitive services, but the need for culturally competent service providers who advocate for the dismantling of prejudice within healthcare. She hopes that her work with UPlift Black will amplify the voices of racialized mental health service providers and users to inform systemic change. Rachel’s background in health promotion and personal experiences with discrimination have motivated her involvement with UPlift Black. She feels fortunate to have this opportunity to work with and learn from an organization that directly addresses health inequities resulting from institutionalized racism.
Michelle Martin (she/her) - Learning Consultant
Michelle has two strong passions in life: social justice and learning. She is an education and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practitioner with over 10 years of success in helping public and nonprofit organizations foster meaningful inclusion and create learning-focused cultures. As a lifelong learner, Michelle is an MA candidate in Equity Studies, holds a BA Hons. in Women’s Studies, and Certificates in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Michelle brings a lifelong commitment to social causes and advocacy work for marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. New to living in Barrie, Michelle is grateful to be part of building a brighter future for all in her new community.
Renee Ferguson (she/they) - Advocacy Council
My name is Renée (she/they). I am a white settler and post-secondary educator at Georgian College, currently coordinating and teaching in the liberal arts. I joined UPLift Black’s Advocacy Council because I want to tangibly fight anti-Black racism and work with passionate people to create societally transformative communities where all are welcome.
As a person who holds identities that afford me many privileges, and others that align with societal marginalization, I have a passion for continuous learning, advocacy, and providing educational consultation around the impacts of systemic prejudice and discrimination. I am actively involved in unlearning my own socialized worldviews to live life as a person who listens, appreciates and values difference, uplifts marginalized voices, and engages in active anti-oppressive practice.
Over the past 18 years at the college, I have engaged in many equity related initiatives and programming. I most recently led the development and launch of the tuition waiver and coaching program for learners from care, and as a former access program coordinator, I championed equitable educational opportunities for marginalized learners with disabilities. I was also the inaugural faculty advisor for Georgian’s Foodlocker program that aims to lessen food insecurity in our student population. Outside of the college, I am an equity consultant, advocate, policy advisor, and volunteer through my work with Courageous Spaces Consulting, the Child Welfare Political Action Committee of Canada, Education Committee for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, and as Chair of the Board for Epilepsy Simcoe County. I have also presented workshops on a variety of equity-related topics such as 2SLGBTQQIA+, disability as diversity, and family privilege, to local businesses and organizations. Earlier in my career, I facilitated court diversion programming at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe County, worked in supervised access within child welfare, and was Chair of Public Relations for the Barrie Literacy Council.
Jessica Somers (she/her) - Wellness Instructor
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) - Board Secretary and IT Coordinator
Sarah Downey is a settler born in Scarborough, Ontario on Treaty 13. Sarah grew up in a family committed to social justice and she became aware of issues of classism, racism, disability rights, feminism and LGBTQ+ rights at an early age which galvanized her dedication to activism. She attended Wexford School for the Arts where she did a co-op as a drama teacher in the Toronto District School Board has a degree from University of Toronto and diploma from Sheridan College in Theatre and Drama Studies. She has an eclectic work background in the arts, website tech, child care and co-owning a cloth diaper brand. Sarah presently works at No Hassle Website, is as a Postpartum Doula and is an Instructor in the ECE Department and School to College Partnerships at Georgian College. Sarah has three kids and enjoys volunteering and loves books. She is passionate about her work in education, with UPlift Black and standing with the community as a co-conspirator for equity and justice.