“A profile on two of the most influential Black women activists in Vancouver today, Nova Stevens and Shamika Mitchell. Only this year, their relentless organizing efforts led to the proclamation of August 1st as Emancipation Day in the City of Vancouver. August 1st, 1834, marks the day when slaves were freed in Canada.”
Shamika Mitchell: An actress with a heart for the people
When asked to try her hand at describing herself, Shamika mentioned many things, from her loyal nature to her confidence which I noticed immediately. But what stuck out to me was her strength, an inner strength that inevitably developed growing up as a Black girl with a “hard background” as she described.
Shamika grew up in Scarborough, near Dodds Road. It was a rough white neighbourhood and as hard as it already was, she still experienced an extra dose of racism. This manifested in a tale as old-as-time that Black girls often experience - the mockery of her hair and features. She distinctly remembers the first time she realized that as a Black woman, her pain would always come second. She was two or three years old and she fell while in school. The teacher paid her very little attention. At that young age, her pain was already being disregarded as a Black woman.
Toronto culture is drastically different from here in Vancouver as we all know. Vancouver lacks the unique multicultural essence that Toronto easily carries. There, she felt “smothered by culture” but here she had no such sentiment. When Shamika moved here some years ago, she was stunned at the obvious differences and it took some time for her to find a “power clique”, a group of girlfriends that could support each other through anything. All the Black people seemed to be hiding, it was hard to find them at events, talk less of gathering them for action. When asked if she thought our city acknowledged its blackness, she said “Not really.” She believes it is in fact trying to eradicate Black culture. This, to her, is exemplified by how much effort it took for Emancipation Day to be instituted in the first place.
The struggles of daily life in Vancouver did not compare to the struggles Shamika faced in the film industry. She is an actress with obvious star energy even though she’s very humble about it. On set, she had to deal with snide comments, hair stylists not knowing how to do Black hair and being made to feel insignificant, like a burden. She knows there are still some amazing people in the film industry - she’s met them. But she hopes the industry gets even better. In fact, she just landed her first big role in “My Birthday Romance”, a Reel One Entertainment film which is already receiving tons of recognition.
In regards to her experience with protesting, Shamika’s story is very similar to Nova’s. She attended her first-ever protest on June 5th, which was held for #BLM. She heard Nova speak and in her words, the speech was powerful. She immediately felt that there was more she could do in terms of protests. She felt that “some aspects weren’t touched” in that march. This led to her and Nova organizing their first march for BLM on June 18, Juneteenth. it was “the most beautiful thing” she’d ever seen — allies of every race banding together for the purest of intentions.
“COVID woke me up,” she said, “The pandemic broke the norm.”And on August 1st, she and Nova organized the March that would lead the city of Vancouver to finally declare the date as Emancipation Day.
But she discovered that there was also an ugly side to organizing protests. In the time she organized the protests, she denied auditions, slept less and even lost weight. Without a solid team and strong listening skills, the organizing process would become even more complicated. Furthermore, there was a lot of judgement when she posted on social media, a closer level of scrutiny now that she had placed herself in the public’s eye.
“You can’t have a day of happiness. You must be hurt or angry,” she said.
Constantly raging against the system can take a toll on you but she advises aspiring activists to have a balance and focus on the beauty of it all. She personally finds rest in acting, going to a “fantasy world” where she can get away from the world’s stresses. She also has three beautiful dogs.
Her eyes glistened when she spoke of one of her heroes, Chadwick Boseman, who recently passed. He used his “last breath” to champion Black people. His conviction both inspires and comforts her. To her, using her voice for a cause is a “different type of joy”.
Shamika wrapped up her interview with some messages to readers:
To those in the film industry, she entreats them to learn about Black hair and makeup. “Educate yourselves, make that person feel beautiful and empowered,” she said.
To allies, she said, “Put your money where your mouth is.”
To Black women, she asked us to remember that we’re “some of the strongest human beings in the world.”
To everyone else, she said, “Reflect on the hatred you have for Black women.”
And as for Vancouver and its anti-racist journey, she thinks that Emancipation Day was just “square one and a half” in terms of what the city could do.
I have no doubt that Shamika will go on to do great things — on and off screen. She is truly a superwoman in the making, with a genuine love for the people. I truly can’t wait to see what she conquers next.