From music and theatre to home renovations and the public service—SHIFTER is proud to present its first annual Outstanding Black Women in Canada list. Meet the Outstanding Black Women in Canada for 2023.
Back in 2020, following the murders of George Floyd and Toronto rapper Houdini, we decided to launch our inaugural Outstanding Black Men in Canada list to celebrate Black men having a positive impact at work, at home, in the community and in culture, all while promoting brotherhood among Black men and dispelling negative stereotypes. When we released the list, we heard from Black Canadian women wondering when we would release a list for them. Well, that time has come. After a few false starts, we’re happy to finally release our first annual Outstanding Black Women in Canada list.
This curated list showcases inspirational women who have either served their communities, built businesses, spoken out against injustice, or broken down barriers, all while, in some cases, juggling responsibilities at home. They represent a number of industries, from arts & entertainment to home renovations and the public service. We received nominations from across Canada and our jurors voted our shortlist down to 20 deserving women. Read about them below, in no particular order.
Outstanding Black Women in Canada 2023
Jully Black recently made international headlines when she changed the words to the Canadian national anthem at the 2023 NBA All-Star Game in Utah in solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous people. While she received much praise for her allyship, it also came with threats and opposition.
But Jully is no stranger to breaking down barriers. Widely considered “Canada’s Queen of R&B Soul”, she was a pioneer of Canada’s urban music scene, now celebrated all over the world. Not afraid to spread her wings, she’s also spent time as an actor, both on TV and the stage.
She is also a champion for health and wellness, founding the 100 Strong & Sexy health and fitness community.
She’s racked up an impressive list of accolades over the years, from Juno Awards to being named one of the ‘25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever’ by CBC, to more recently being given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2021.
An example of the power of faith and hard work, she’s remained relevant for over 20 years and continues to drop dope music. But despite her success so far, it’s clear her star is still on the rise.
If you’ve spent time in the Canadian film and television industry, you’ve most likely heard the name Jennifer Holness. The Jamaican-born film and television director, producer and screenwriter is easily one of the leading film and TV producers in Canada and a champion for Black content who has helped launch the careers of some prominent Canadian talent, including Scarborough native turned Hollywood actor, Stephan James.
She currently sits on the Board of Directors of The Black Academy and helped to found the Black Screen Office which not only exists to help dismantle anti-Black racism in Canada’s screen industries but empowers Black Canadians working in the industry.
Through her company Hungry Eyes Media Inc., which she operates alongside her husband and business partner and Sudz Sutherland, she’s produced a number of titles, including BLK: An Original Story, a four-part docuseries that looks beyond the Underground Railroad to explore the untold stories of Black Canadians from the 1600s to the present.
She was recently announced as a nominee for a 2023 Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction, Documentary Series for the series. But despite her own personal success, she continues to find time to executive produce projects from the next generation of young filmmakers.
Canadian playwright, filmmaker, and journalist, Amanda Parris, has been on a bit of a run in recent years. Although she rose to popularity as an arts reporter and producer for CBC, she has kept busy with a flurry of creative projects and ventures. First, she made her theatrical debut in 2017 with her play Other Side of the Game. Then she won the 2019 Governor General’s Award for English-language drama for her book of the same name. Then came The Death News, written by Parris and directed by Charles Officer as a part of CBC’s Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu-commissioned anthology series 21 Black Futures. Her work on CBC’s The Exhibitionists and The Death News led to her taking home the trophies for Best Writing in a Web Program or Series and Best Host, Talk Show or Entertainment News. This is on top of taking home the Changemaker Award alongside TSN anchor Kayla Grey and Refinery29’s Kathleen Newman-Bremang.
Her latest project is the episodic series Revenge Of The Black Best Friend about former actor turned self-help guru, Dr. Toni Shakur (played by Olunike Adeliyi) who has risen to fame by supporting Black actors who have been cast as token Black characters, from the thug to the sassy Black best friend. In 2022, Parris screened the series at the Cannes International Series Festival, also known as Canneseries. Then this month, her hard work paid off when the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announced the series had received nine nominations for the 2023 Canadian Screen Awards, including the 2023 Audience Choice Award.
If you’re a Black professional who is currently working in film and television, or are looking to make the transition, Joan Jenkinson is a name you should remember.
She is the co-founder and inaugural Executive Director of the Black Screen Office where she works to address anti-Black racism in film and television through advocacy and research. Under her leadership, the BSO has published a number of important reports, including Being Seen: Directives for Creating Authentic and Inclusive Content, Being Counted: Canadian Race-Based Audience Survey, Being Heard: Black Canadians in the Canadian Screen Industries, and a series of “Being Seen” reports focusing on Children’s Media, Black people, People of Colour, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and People with Disabilities, all focused on how to improve representation.
She also supports Black industry professionals in building their careers in film and television. From Berlin to the United Kingdom, she can be seen taking delegations of Black producers abroad to network and spur co-productions.
Prior to this she was an award-winning executive producer and long-time film and television executive. As Vice-President of Independent Production for ZoomerMedia Limited, Television Division she developed and executive produced award-winning content, including comedy and drama programs through VisionTV’s ground-breaking DiverseTV/NSI initiative. From there, she went on to become a partner and producer at Artemis Pictures.
Her work at the Black Screen Office builds on her previous work as Executive Director of Women in Film and Television – Toronto (WIFT-T) where she established professional development training and networking opportunities for women in the screen industries.
Sarah Onyango is a fixture in Ottawa’s Black community. Over the years, she’s been involved with a number of organizations, including Black History Ottawa, Fête Caribe, DreamKEEPERS, the Jamaican (Ottawa) Community Association, and the United Way. Her community service has earned her awards including the United Way/Centraide Ottawa Community Builder Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
A translator by trade, Onyango is perhaps most known for co-founding the online community website Black 411 Ottawa and as a long-time radio host since 1999. She hosts two weekly radio programs―Black on Black and Afrika Revisited on CHUO 89.1FM.
Connect with Sarah: LinkedIn
Vivian Kaye is a Business & Empowerment Expert, Keynote Speaker, and TV Personality who encourages women of colour to ask themselves “What would Chad do?” and to have the “audacity of a mediocre white dude named Chad” in doing big things that may seem out of their reach.
Vivian doesn’t just walk the walk; she talks the talk. She is the founder of three businesses, including KinkyCurlyYaki, a line of textured human hair extensions for women which she has scaled into a multi-million dollar business. Considering herself a cross between Oprah and Gary Vee, she shares her expertise of the host of her popular Build it Braver podcast.
She’s worked with a number of brands, including Unilever, Porsche, and RBC, and has appeared on leading media outlets like Cityline and CBC.
Connect with Vivian: Instagram
Kamshuka is a Mindfulness Practitioner and Certified Life & Wellness Coach who has used her story of childhood trauma as a tool to help and inspire others. As a war child survivor of the Ugandan civil war and the 1990 Gulf War, she has experienced PTSD, depression, and mental and emotional trauma which led to a sense of hopeless and ultimately being suicidal as a teenager. Fortunately, after many failed suicide attempts, she was able to turn her life around.
She is now the author of three books―“Becoming Warrior”, “The Upgrade” and “GirlPower Uncensored” which she co-authored―and has spoken all over the world teaching audiences how to manage their emotions and master their minds.
During the pandemic, she was named 1 of 100 “Accomplished Black Canadian Women” 2020 and has been featured in publications like Soulful Image, Shoutout Atlanta, Voyage LA & Voyage ATL.
Despite having lived in Canada and the Middle East, she stays true to her Ugandan roots. She was celebrated as an Empowered Woman of Power on Uganda’s National network of NTV and uses her platform to advocate against human trafficking, spending time in the city of Kolkata, India, rescuing women sold into sex slavery.
Connect with Kamshuka: Instagram
Tara Lynn Taylor
Preston, Nova Scotia native, Tara Lynn Taylor, wears many hats. She’s a filmmaker, playwright, actress, multidisciplinary artist, singer and licensed hairstylist.
A member of The AFCOOP, Theatre Nova Scotia, Visual Arts Nova Scotia, PERFORM Nova Scotia and the Bus Stop Theatre, Tas has produced and in some cases starred in Dreamgirls, The Color Purple and The Wiz. She also wrote an original musical about the life of Viola Desmond staged at The Spatz theatre in 2018 and Dartmouth Players Theatre in 2019. She is currently writing her new musicals titled Hood Habits and Love, Peace and Hairgrease in the playwrights Unit under Eastern Front Theatre.
To serve the community, she also holds a few governance positions in the arts. She is currently the vice-chair and Diversity & Inclusive Committee team lead of the Link Performing Arts Society, a new arts, entertainment and production hub in Downtown Halifax. She is also a Board Member for Centre for Art Tapes, Screen Nova Scotia and the Bus Stop Theatre.
Tara has over 19 years of experience film, both in front and behind the camera, eventually co-founding The Emerging Lens Film Festival, serving as its director.
She’s also spent time as CBC Information Morning Cultural Columnist for the “ArtnSoul Report”, Artistic Director of Charles Taylor Theatre & Media Arts, the Inaugural Artist in Residence for the Halifax Public Libraries, Co-Chair of Women in Film & Television – Atlantic.
Her work in musical theatre and film ultimately made her 2021 Recipient of the African Nova Scotian Music Awards Industry Development Award sponsored by the Black Business Initiative (BBI) and landed her on SHIFTER and National Arts Centre’s Innovators & Icons list earlier this year.
Connect with Tara: Instagram
Tasha Riley (Black Execs)
Tasha Riley graduated with her Masters in Social Work in 2019 before taking an unexpected turn in a completely new direction developing the platform Black Execs. In hindsight, the change made complete sense.
While completing her studies, she wrote a major research report on Black Wealth Mobility where she found entrepreneurship to be an effective tool for fostering generational wealth. This sparked the idea to create a platform that would support Black entrepreneurship.
That platform is BlackExecs which is at the unique intersection between Tech and Media. Under Riley’s leadership as CEO, the company has created a free directory that highlights Black owned businesses locally, while also providing media and production services. Today, they’ve grown into a full-service team of Black professionals providing content creation for brands.
With her passion for championing Black entrepreneurship, Tasha is the definition of Black Excellence.
Gabon born Gwen Madiba is a force to be reckoned with. Her work as an award-winning human rights and gender equality advocate, public speaker, TV host and fashion designer have touched everywhere from Africa and Europe to the United States, Latin America and the streets of Ottawa through her foundation Equal Chance, often putting her personal safety in jeopardy.
Along the way, she’s received a number of awards, including the Order of Ottawa, the Women’s Executive Network of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women twice, the United Way of Eastern Ontario’s Community Builder Award – Covid-19 heroes edition Award, the Crime Prevention Ottawa Outstanding Achievement Award, and in 2022 was named one of nine L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth.
One of her initiatives, The Headphones Project helped obtain over 1400 headphones for homeless children and youth living under difficult conditions.
In 2022, she became the first ever UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Gabon and founded the Global Black Coalition to support visible minorities fleeing the war in Ukraine. To date, the coalition has helped rescue over 1000 community members and has helped house over 2000 community members.
When she’s not travelling the world advocating for those in need, she’s building her Sponsored by God fashion brand which she co-founded in 2020. She’s also a TV personality and co-host of French network BBlack!’s entertainment show which also picked up her show “Growing Forward” earlier this year.
Connect with Gwen: Instagram
Stacy Savary is a dance artist and model turned Women’s Health Advocate who is using her personal story of battling Endometriosis to inspire others.
Her ups and downs are detailed in her book “The Perfect Storm: Navigating the Storms of Life in Messy Waters” where she uses her experiences of grappling with divorce and infertility to motivate women facing the same issues. The book is also a guide on how to overcome living with disability and chronic pain and disease.
Stacy is not just a survivor but an overcomer and an example of resilience and how to win despite the cards you’ve been dealt.
Connect with Stacy: LinkedIn
Shelley Challenger and Shari Yearwood
If you’ve listened to Flow 98.7 in Toronto, you’ve heard the catchy jingle for New Haven Funeral Centre, Peel Region’s first Christian black-owned funeral centre. The women behind the company are long time friends Shelley Challenger and Shari Yearwood. With over 40 years of combined experience, they designed the 30,000 Sq. Ft. boutique style facility to feel like home.
What sets them apart is that go beyond funeral services by offering Christian grief counselling, last rites, mediation services, prayer requests, pastoral support networks, receptions (repass) and cultural gatherings, concierge services, health/wellness/real estate seminars, and anti-violence workshops.
The pair were recently featured in a funeral magazine which had never had black owners on the front and are providing a vital service for Black families, helping them through difficult times.
Connect with Shelley and Shari: Business Instagram
Born in the Republic of Congo, Prima Mabonzo originally moved to Canada in 2011 to complete her Masters in Finance & International Management at the University of Sherbrooke. This led to a career in the finance and professional services industries.
Three years after graduating she started her career at Desjardins before moving on to the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. She then followed that with a role as Senior IT Business Analyst at RBC.
Mabonzo is also an example of immigrant entrepreneurship in Canada. In 2018, she founded her company Kisina Deco which produces African-inspired and African-made home decor items. Her goal for the company is twofold―to provide economic independence to African women producing her products in their country, while introducing African-made products to the Western world.
But her work extends beyond helping women in her home country to helping women everywhere. She has been president of the Business and Professional Women Montreal, a chapter of one of biggest international organizations for professional women. This led to her taking on a national role with the organization as Vice-President of Membership.
In 2018, Prima was a selected Canadian delegate at the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. She was invited again in March 2021 as one of the representatives of Business and Professional Women International. Through this, Prima has been a voice and advocate on women’s issues around the world. Overall, Prima is an example of determination, hard work and service making her an Outstanding Black Woman in Canada.
Hailing from Upper Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, Ariel Gough is a social entrepreneur, policy advisor and TEDx speaker. As a public servant, she spent time as a policy and regional advisor to the federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development. In the role she worked on Canada’s first National Poverty Reduction Strategy and Early Learning and Childcare Framework. This led to her becoming a Strategic Initiatives Analyst in the Office of the Premier of Nova Scotia.
Ariel is very proud of her African Nova Scotian roots which she credits with her success and determination. She later applied this determination and hard work to entrepreneurship, co-founding Bailly Cosmetics Inc., a Halifax-based fragrance company that supports girls’ education in Uganda The company has been featured in Elle Canada, Flare, Refinery29 and Yahoo Style. This led to her being awarded the CANIE Youth Impact Icon Award by the Innovators & Entrepreneurs Foundation, and the accolades haven’t stopped. She’s also a recipient of the Premier of Nova Scotia’s Power of Positive Change Award and was selected to participate in a Junior Team Canada mission to the Arctic to engage Inuit youth on some of the North’s most pressing issues.
Ever active in the community, she currently sits on the steering committee for the Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice, and delivered a talk at TEDxMount Saint Vincent University on girls’ empowerment and implicit bias.
Keziah “Keyz” Osei
Keziah “Keyz” Osei is breaking barriers challenging the male-dominated construction industry.
Her love for renovation and craftsmanship were sparked 11 years ago and she hasn’t stopped since.
“Being a woman in construction has allowed me to demonstrate to my family and society that women can thrive and be leaders in the construction trade, and ultimately overcome any barriers that only work to limit women’s limitless potential.”
This is why the Durham College alum founded Keyz To Your Home Renovations seven years ago. Not only does she take on her own projects, but she has also worked for some of the biggest homebuilders in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as companies like Tim Hortons and Starbucks.
Whether she’s building, restoring, and finishing, she takes pride in her work ethic and being able to get projects done on time. Her hard work has paid off once again as she is slated to join season two of HGTV’s “STYLED” as a contractor which is now in production.
Aside from making her TV debut, what’s next for Osei is expanding Keyz To Your Home Renovations as a woman-led company and training and hiring more women into the construction trade.
Connect with Keziah: LinkedIn
Adenike Charles has come a long way since growing up in two of Toronto’s toughest neighbourhoods―Jane and Finch and Lawrence Heights, also known as “Jungle”. Despite growing up the middle child of five girls in a loving Christian home, her environment would have an early affect on her.
As a teenager, she was kicked out of different high schools and labelled as “bad” and “troubled”, hanging out with the wrong crowd and having some run-ins with the law. This culminated in Adenike witnessing the shooting of her boyfriend as he died in her arms.
That’s when basketball saved her life when she received a full scholarship to a Christian university in California. While playing basketball she obtained her degree in Kinesiology, with a minor in sports medicine.
Today, she is a wife and mother of two and certified CanFit Pro fitness trainer. She juggles being manager at an insurance company with being the owner of Just2sweat, blending faith and fitness. She runs an online bootcamp four days a week, along with personal one-on-one training and motivational speaking. All this with two torn ACLs and being told she would never be able to do any kind of fitness.
With her motto “I can, I will and I must”, she is a testament to the fact that your past doesn’t have to define you and that with hard work and the right decisions, you can accomplish anything.
Connect with Adenike: Instagram
Meghan Stewart, also known as “Mindfulness Meghan”, is an Ottawa-based Mindfulness Coach. Certified through Vermont-based United Mindfulness, Meghan brings her experience as a multi-racial Jamaican-Canadian woman with over 15 years of experience in human resources, hospitality and philanthropy to her practice.
Working with organizations like the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Ottawa Catholic School Board, Invest Ottawa, and the Government of Canada, her aim is to minimize suffering and harm within humanity and nature.
Following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent spotlight on anti-Black racism, Meghan was in demand as a trainer on bias, inclusivity, and mental health.
Then in 2021, she launched the Mindful Educator Program as a part of the New Teacher Induction Program for school boards across Canada with the Ottawa Catholic School Board and Durham District School Board using the program. That year she was featured by CBC as a one of 10 women in the Ottawa area building community by supporting and promoting physical and mental wellness as a part of their In Her Words series.
In 2022, she co-founded the Thrive Learning Program for Youth and Educators that fuses restorative justice and the foundations of inclusive wellness practices and approaches.
Connect with Meghan: Instagram
Fiona Khaemba is the artist, founder and creative director of Anaya Arts, a Black/African arts and lifestyle brand she started in her basement back in 2018. Then in 2021, the former HR administrator turned entrepreneur ambitiously opened two stores in Ottawa’s largest regional malls―CF Rideau Centre and Bayshore Shopping Centre in a city where local brands opening up shop in large malls is unheard of. She’s not only creating jobs and creating positive representations of Black culture, but she is an inspiring young entrepreneur with big ambitions.
She considers herself a risk taker, dreamer and adventurer who seeks opportunities to combine the worlds of arts, culture, technology, mental health and innovation.
In her latest flex, Fiona recently took to social media to announce Anaya Arts and fellow Black art and lifestyle brand S.M.A.R.D. Art would be coming together to form a new company TAAC Inc.―two Black woman-owned brands joining forces to better serve their customers with high quality Black inspired art products.
Her aim is to “inspire and empower through creative expression one minimalist art piece at a time”. But while creativity is her tool, at her core she’s a “people and culture advocate” who promotes diversity and inclusion through art.
Caroline Xavier is a long time public servant who has held a number of positions in various departments going back to 2004, including Communications Security Establishment Canada, Canada Border Services, and the Privy Council Office.
In February 2020, Caroline made history when she was appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, making her Canada’s first ever Black Deputy Minister in the federal public service.
Last August, she was appointed Chief of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Government of Canada’s national cryptologic agency.
Caroline is a graduate of the University of Ottawa (Bachelor’s degree in Administration, concentration in Marketing and Informatics) and of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia (Executive Master’s degree in Electronic Commerce).
Connect with Caroline: LinkedIn
Nicole Waldron is a long-time community advocate―28 years to be exact. She has lended her voice to the issue of affordable housing and is the first Black Person to be elected President of Co-operative Housing Federation in Canada on the local and national level.
With her son having been diagnosed with a mental illness seven years ago, she has also become an active advocate on Mental Health, especially mental health caregivers.
Through her work, she is involved with a number of causes and organizations. She sits on the Family Advisory Committee (FAC) at CAMH, the Family Advisory Council for Stellas Place and OFCAN, and the boards of the Ontario Caregivers Organization and The Co-operators making her the first Black woman to sit on the company’s Board.
Nicole is also a long-time event planner and has also been an active member in the arts community supporting various organizations in the Caribbean and African Community. She has helped to produce many events for organizations and charities and worked at various media organizations..
During the pandemic, she launched an inspirational podcast called Victory Speaks which eventually turned into an online show where she interviews individuals making an impact on the community. Then in 2021, she became an author and was published in two anthologies titled “Pursued by Purpose” and “Rising Eagles”.
Her service to the community has earned her a number of awards. She was named one of the 100 Black Accomplished Canadian Women and one of 150 Women in Canada by How She Hustles’ HERstory in Black series. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Brian Burke Community Service Award from CHFT, the Outstanding Community Service Award from Dance Caribe, the Social Housing Service Corporation Kathleen Blinkhorn Award for Excellence in Volunteerism, and now SHIFTER’s Outstanding Black Woman in Canada.
Although Nicole wears many hats―event planner, inspirational speaker, author, community advocate, and podcast host―for her, it all comes down to motivating, enlightening and empowering individuals in their purpose and helping them develop a victorious mindset and lifestyle.
Connect with Nicole: Instagram
We hope you enjoyed reading about these incredible, Outstanding Black Women in Canada as much as we enjoyed compiling this list. Be sure to follow each of them online to stay up to date on the work they are doing!