18 May 2018 Posted By : Nickie Shobeiry

CityMakers: Black Like Me is dedicated to creating spaces for Black people in Ottawa

Black Like Me (BLM) is an organisation dedicated to creating spaces for Black people in Ottawa to “find happiness, safety, support, and whatever else they need to live.” Founded in 2016 by Sakinna Gairey and Selali A-W, BLM has now grown to include several programs and services, and successful events. Below, Nickie Shobeiry speaks to them about their work.

What brought you both to Ottawa?

Sakinna: I’m currently studying communications at the University of Ottawa.

Selali: I go to Carleton, but I’ve been here a bit over a decade now. I was brought here by the regular push-pull factors of white supremacy, migration needs, all that jazz. I moved here with my parents and I’m here now, living life.

What inspired you to create BLM?

Selali: I went to Frosh and it was whack. We thought, let’s make a Frosh for black kids, essential to their culture, their identity – for folks that are “black like me.”

What are the logistics to running BLM?

Selali: The biggest issue is figuring out how to work with students, for students, but also to be respectful of what they have to do – to be aware of the fact that life is going to get in the way, and finding somebody else who is also down to sometimes sacrifice. It does look like suffering sometimes.

Sakinna: But happy suffering. The most important thing for us is we’re very committed to the things that we’re doing.

What is your vision?

Selali: If we can look at BLK Frosh in five years and say we’ve grown, and say I’m doing my best, and it’s something sustainable for us and the community, then that’s it. Wherever the community needs us to be in five years, that’s where we’ll be. And if it needs us to not exist at all, we take our out.

Sakinna: The ultimate vision is that black people are comfortable.

What’s unique about doing this in Ottawa, as opposed to other Canadian cities?

Sakinna: How Ottawa was built makes it very difficult to move around in. You have Centretown Ottawa, which is students, people moving in and out of the city – then you have other neighbourhoods further out, not quite attached to downtown. The people who live there won’t travel downtown, but those are also black people within Ottawa. If we’re looking at sustainability, those are who we need to reach out to, because those are the people who will be here ten years from now.

How does that connect to your aim for sustainability?

Selali: We hope it’s something that will grow beyond us, that’s why it’s “Black Like Me”. University kids won’t want to talk to me when I’m 35, and I probably won’t feel as passionate about helping them. Maybe I’ll be 35 and I want something for black people at the age of 30. Black like me! There’s no limit.

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