The newly formed not-for-profit social service agency UPlift Black has been working to empower Black people in Simcoe Muskoka since the death of George Floyd.
The organization has hit the ground running with several projects already on the go, thanks to the work of many volunteers and the community’s response rallying behind UPlift Black.
Ultimately, their vision is to build a physical location, with a similar model to Native Friendship Centres, which are dedicated to enriching the lives of Indigenous people through culturally-based services, programs and teachings.
"So many different communities have resources and spaces that they can come to and find a safe space. Unfortunately, the Black community hasn't really had that space yet, so that's what UPlift Black is trying to offer,” said Shelly Skinner, Uplift Black President.
"We are fundraising and hoping to be able to find a space to work out of so that we can have visitors, we can have family members come to us, we can have members of the community there.”
Some of the work that is ongoing at UPlift Black includes a food box program, book club, dance classes, mentorship programs for youth and working with Imani’s Place in Alliston, which is a Black-led safe haven for women 18-35 who are homeless due to domestic violence or human trafficking.
“We are working with Imani’s Place as an organizational mentor, so we're just helping them with building their organization through community connections, getting them in front of the people who can help them grow,” said Skinner.
“We’re just using volunteers and the work from the community to make that happen."
In an effort to show Black youth that they matter to the community, an initiative to send out care packages to families was started in June and 239 went out in August.
"It was an incredible experience to be able to see the community come together for our Black youth,” said Skinner. "A lot of the feedback we heard from the families and the parents is just how special the youth felt just for being Black”
“It was an ability for them to see themselves in a positive light and see the community rally together to tell them that they are important, they are special and they matter.”
The care packages were uniquely chosen for each youth as their parents told Uplift Black a little bit about their child so they could gear the packages towards their interests and age. Some families received technology for kids who needed it for their return to school.
The community raised $5,000 for the project and donated around $10,000 worth of items for the care packages, while the Barrie Foundation provided a grant of $10,000. Skinner said she hopes to continue with another youth project next year, but noted community partners are always needed to make it happen.
Through the care package program, UPlift Black partnered with Firebird Community Cycle, which helped give bicycles to Black families in need.
Currently, UPlift Black is working with Urban Pantry to provide high quality food boxes to registered Black families in the Simcoe Muskoka region. To sign up, visit upliftblack.org/sign-up/ and fill out a form.
UPlift Black has also started a youth and adult book club that selects books from Black authors each month. The first book is “Born a Crime” which tells the story of Daily Show host and comedian Trevor Noah growing up as a mixed-race person in South Africa during Apartheid.
A web series was recently started with UPlift Black as well, featuring members of the Black community who share their stories.
Going forward, Skinner said her organization is really focused on connecting with Simcoe County as a whole.
"We're really just hoping to be a wealth of service for our community, there are so many incredible agencies that are working to service the community, so we just hope to be another welcomed service here,” she told the Times.
“Please stay in touch, sign up for our newsletter [at upliftblack.org] to know what we're up to and to get more information. Being an ally is about taking the time to do the work and find out how you can support the community and there's so many different ways to do that.”
As the holiday season nears, UPlift Black will be introducing an Adopt a Family program. Interested supporters can make a donation by visiting their website or contacting the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Odrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times