While a recent proposal to create an inclusive and uplifting community centre awaits approval from city hall, the woman behind Shak’s World is turning heads and getting people talking about the important issues that require dialogue.
Shanicka (Shak) Edwards grew up in Innisfil but has lived in Barrie for the last five years. The 24-year-old was instrumental in the massive Justice For Black Lives protest in Barrie on June 4 that attracted up to 3,000 people throughout the day.
“That was my first speaking moment at such a big rally, ever,” said Edwards. “I do keynote presentations within the Simcoe County District School Board and Toronto District School Board, so I’ve spoken to large audiences, but never that many.”
Edwards said she is a leader at heart and has spoken up for things she believes in. But she stops short of labelling herself an activist.
“I’ve been asked a lot lately if I consider myself an activist. I don’t consider myself an activist as much as I consider myself to be a role model and a leader for people to speak up when they see wrongdoings,” said Edwards.
“I don’t wake up everyday to fight for the anti-Black racism cause, but I do wake up every day hoping that everyone stays humble and kind,” she explained.
In fact, that mantra – Stay Humble And Kind – is how Edwards got the nickname Shak. She has long tried to empower youth to follow the motto.
Shak’s World was founded in 2015 as an organization that focuses on community and the well-being of youth through basketball and other programs.
Edwards has hosted basketball games and events that have helped raise money for their programs, including the annual Cure Courts, which aims to help with youth mental illness.
The latest project for the local non-profit has been searching for a space for a home facility that would serve as Shak’s World Community Centre. Edwards appeared before council on Aug. 10 asking for $42,000 to rent the currently unused space at 59 Maple Ave.
“Shak’s World has never asked for donations because we have such great community partnerships, but what we’re looking for from the city is a commitment of $42,000 to help us secure the location,” said Edwards.
“That would help for the cost of the lease for six months, that way we are focused on serving our community. That is all we want, and I feel like that would also show that the city sees the value in something like this,” Edwards explained. “Having their support here really does a lot, but it also helps with the naysayers and it may help change minds and attitudes.”
That council meeting didn’t have the impact Edwards was hoping for as it eventually devolved into a war of words between councillors over systemic racism.
“I think many people were put off by the context of the conversation, because of the turn it took,” said Edwards. “So far, we have not heard anything from anyone on council about how they can or want to help us.”
Edwards explained the importance of having a community centre operated mainly by Black staff and volunteers.
“The program is important here because (Barrie and Simcoe County) is a predominantly white area,” said Edwards. “By having a youth centre that is run by Black people, it gives those Black youth more hope they can be in those positions,” said Edwards.
“You don’t often see EA’s walking around local schools who are Black. The region doesn’t have many Black therapists, teachers, child and youth workers and so on,” explained Edwards. “There are Black youth in this community who feel left out and neglected, this centre will help their self-confidence immensely while also helping Black, white and any other youth hang out in a very inclusive environment.”
The centre would offer youth drop-in programs that focus on youth mental health, a before- and after-school breakfast club, a youth entrepreneur mentorship program, and a youth police academy for youth looking to become involved in policing.
Edwards stressed Shak’s World community is not only for Black families, a claim that has been made often on social media.
“I think people are looking at me and seeing a young, Black woman instead of what I’ve done in my work, which I feel speaks for itself. In the midst of this social climate right now, people are having a hard time differentiating the two,” said Edwards, “People think I’m trying to come with an all-Black place where no one else is allowed with only programs for Black people. Its crazy. Anyone who knows me knows that is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do with my work and this space.”
Recently, professional athletes have refused to play their respective games as a way to spark change. This came after the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. Blake Jr., a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by officers in Kenosha, WI. The shooting has sparked riots in the city as well as created a wave of race relations conversations.
“Sports have always been a catalyst and a connection point for a lot of people,” said Edwards. “The fact that the major sports leagues took that step to walk away and show everyone there is something bigger going on here and we need to pay attention, was very powerful.
“That’s a reason I use basketball the way I do. I love playing the game, but I also know that it and other sports can help alleviate stress and push forward conversion and change,” she said.
Edwards added that Black athletes and Black people can’t fight this cause alone and she hopes others step up.
“I feel like I’ve said this a million times, but it’s going to take our allies speaking up and it’s going to take gigantic decisions like the sports walkout for people to see the severity of what’s happening,” said Edwards.
”We woke up the other day and there was a Black man shot in the back seven times in front of three of his sons,” continued Edwards. “Those three boys are never going to forget that and it’s the way that Blacks are being treated right now that we’re trying to bring attention to.
“In some cases it’s like some people are choosing ignorance over education and not listening to the words we’re saying or seeing what is happening globally,” she said.
Being more comfortable behind the scenes and working for the causes she believes in, Edwards was asked if she had ever thought of running for a political office.
“Politics is something I have never wanted to pursue; I have always been a person of the people. But I realize politics is the people of the people,” said Edwards. “If we don’t have the right people in politics, then our system is always going to end up the way it is.”
Edwards concedes she has heard the calls from others urging her to enter politics.
“Yes, I have been hearing that more and more lately, that I should get involved and yes, I have recently been thinking about running because of the changes I want to see,” said Edwards. “But first, I want to get the community centre up and running for our local youth.”
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