Meet the Black on the Prairies advisory board
We needed to engage community members of varied interests, perspectives and experiences
This story is part of the Black on the Prairies project, a collection of articles, personal essays, images and more, exploring the past, present and future of Black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Enter the Black on the Prairies project here.
From the moment the Black on the Prairies project was conceived, we knew a community advisory board would be integral. To meaningfully tell the stories of Black communities on the Prairies and reflect the diversity and fullness of the Black Prairie experience, we needed to engage community members of varied interests, perspectives and experiences.
A months-long process resulted in the creation of this 10-member Black on the Prairies community advisory board.
These incredible women have lent us their curiosities, offered insightful suggestions, shared deeply personal experiences and challenged our perspectives, all while championing the creation of this project.
While all editorial decisions in the Black on the Prairies project rest with Omayra Issa and Ify Chiwetelu, the impact and influence of this group is woven throughout this project.
We are pleased to introduce you to the Black on the Prairies advisory board.
Tasha Beeds is an Indigenous scholar of nêhiyaw, Scottish-Métis and Bajan ancestry from the Treaty 6 territories of Saskatchewan. She is a mother, a kôhkom (Grandmother), a creative artist and poet, a Water Walker and a Midewiwin Kwe (woman) from Minweyweywigaan Lodge out of Roseau River First Nations and Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve. She belongs to the Makwa (Bear) Clan and is also a traditional daughter to Daabaasanaqwat (Peter Atkinson), Turtle Clan from Baagwaanish Giiziibii.
Tasha's work highlights and celebrates Indigeneity while promoting Indigenous nationhood, sovereignty, care and protection of the land, waters and all of Creation by carrying Indigenous Ancestral legacies forward for the generations to come.
Heaven Berhe is a proud Eritrean who values authenticity and pride in one's culture and origin. She is the current president of the African Students' Association at the University of Saskatchewan and virtual mentor for the Queen B mentorship in Saskatoon. She loves dancing to Lingala and spending quality time with the people she loves.
Born and raised by a single mother on welfare in Winnipeg's inner-city, Melissa Brown lived an underprivileged life with an immense amount of adverse experiences.
From as far back as she can remember, life was never easy. Melissa experienced trauma and adversity at nearly every stage of her life, beginning at the age of four.
Melissa operates Brownees Urban Bistro, a catering company that specializes in Indigenous and Caribbean cuisine. She also owns Keepin' It Kultured, an urban apparel/streetwear brand.
Mahlet Cuff is an interdisciplinary artist and curator who produces their work through digital and film still photography as well as audio recordings. Cuff is a community organizer with Justice4Blacklives Winnipeg and is a part of multiple artist collectives such as Rind and Patterns Collective.
Dieulita Datus is unapologetically Haitian. Born in Haiti, she is the proud descendant of generations of Haitian rice farmers. She was raised in the Bahamas as a migrant child and understands the trauma of being an immigrant child all too well.
Datus is vocal about mental health, Blackness, women's rights and immigration, and continues to speak out at protests and events across Central Alberta. She is the co-founder of Ubuntu-Mobilizing Central Alberta and is an aspiring street minister.
A descendant of Black Oklahomans who arrived in Saskatchewan and Alberta as part of the Black migration of 1910, Cheryl Foggo is a multiple-award-winning playwright, author and filmmaker. Her work over the last 30 years has focused on the lives of Western Canadians of African descent.
In 2020 her NFB feature documentary John Ware Reclaimed premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival, where it received the Alberta Feature Audience Choice Award. Additionally in 2020, the 30th anniversary edition of her book Pourin' Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West was released by Brush Education Press.
Crystal Mayes is the great-granddaughter of Mattie Mayes, who was the matriarch of the first Black settlers in Maidstone, Sask., in 1910. Crystal is also of German and Métis heritage. She is a Mayes family historian, teaching about the little known African-Canadian history and experience from a Prairie perspective.
Currently living in Saskatoon, Sask., Mayes is a licensed practical nurse. She is also very passionate about her other profession of beekeeping. She loves to share her love of bees while promoting a natural lifestyle.
Titilope Sonuga is a writer and performer who calls both Edmonton, Canada and Lagos, Nigeria home. Her work has graced stages and pages across the globe. She has facilitated numerous youth and adult poetry workshops locally and internationally. Her writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovak.
Through her practice, she grasps for moments of tenderness and persistent joy at the intersection of blackness and womanhood. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Down to Earth (2011), Abscess (2014) and This Is How We Disappear (2019), and has released two spoken word albums, Mother Tongue (2011) and Swim (2019).
Malinda Smith is the inaugural vice provost (equity, diversity, and inclusion) and a professor in the department of political science at the University of Calgary. She is a 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow.
Raised in the Bahamas, she completed undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States and Canada.
She has co-authored and edited several books, served on many committees and associations and received many awards for her work in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.
Judy White is a registered social worker and professor emerita with the faculty of social work at the University of Regina. She migrated to Saskatchewan from Trinidad and Tobago in 1987. White has had a long history of community work and research with Black Canadians and other newcomers to the Prairies. She is a member of the executive of the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE).
The Black on the Prairies project is supported by Being Black in Canada. For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians, check out Being Black in Canada here.