Each February, Canada honours the legacy of Black Canadians during a month of festivities and events. However, Black entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders and businesses have shaped, and continue to shape, our culture and economies every day – so it’s fitting the theme for Black History Month 2022 is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History Today and Every Day.”
In the spirit of centring Black contributions to our community, and the important role they play in building a future that is sustainable, equitable and powerful, we’ve compiled a diverse – but by-no-means-comprehensive – list of Black leaders in Vancouver whose work is too important not to commemorate.
The leaders featured below are artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, advisors, visionaries, healers, planners and activists envisioning a just, resilient and prosperous future. Be sure to check out and follow their work!
Multidisciplinary artist; Community manager, Ethọ́s Lab
Tonye Aganaba is a non-binary, multidisciplinary artist born in London, England to parents of Nigerian and Zimbabwean heritage, and raised on Treaty 8 and Treaty 6 territory. Today, they are a fixture in the Vancouver arts community, bringing divine charisma to a fluid style that combines soul, neo-folk, funk, hip hop and R&B. Tonye is also the community manager at Ethọ́s Lab – a Black-led innovation academy empowering youth to create the future through culture-infused STEAM programming. They continue to be an iconic mainstay of intersectional activism in the queer, disability, Black and arts communities. (Photo: Lorne Clarke)
Co-founder and President, Black Business Association of BC
Nerissa Allen is on a mission to address barriers faced by many Black entrepreneurs, including cultural insensitivity. Her non-profit, Black Business Association of BC, equips business professionals with the tools and resources required to achieve entrepreneurial success, including expert-led webinars and an online portal with over 100 self-directed courses. Nerissa also spearheaded a collaboration between her company and Amazon Canada, which helps Black-owned business set up – or scale up – online. She serves on the Vancouver Economic Development Advisory Board, where she provides feedback on VEC’s ongoing priorities for economic development.
Cicely Belle Blain
CEO, Bakau Consulting
You might be familiar with writer, activist and thought leader Cicely Belle Blain as the founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver; they were also listed as one of Vancouver’s 50 most powerful people in Vancouver Magazine and ranked among BC Business’s 30 Under 30. But that’s just the beginning – Cicely also runs Bakau Consulting, a successful consulting company that has served thousands of clients globally, has spoken at the UN Summit in Quito, Ecuador, developed an Intersectionality Toolkit for the City of Vancouver, and presented a TED Talk on creating intersectional communities. They are also a published author (Burning Sugar, 2020) and serve as editorial director of Ripple of Change magazine. (Photo: by Joy Gyamfi)
Award-winning poet and writer
Jillian Christmas is an educator, activist, community organizer and poet committed to sharing anti-oppression initiatives in spoken word. She has participated in, developed and executed programs in partnership with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Opera and CULTCH Mentorship, among others, and facilitated spoken word workshops across the country. Jillian’s debut poetry collection is The Gospel of Breaking, which draws on her family history, queer lineage and politics to tell stories of love lost, friendship and community. (Photo: Kay Ho Photography)
Dr. Henrietta Ezegbe
Physician and public health researcher
Dr. Henrietta Ezegbe completed her medical degree at the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria and began practicing in infectious disease prevention and control – however, she soon realized that further training could help her prevent the diseases she was treating. As a researcher, her work and tireless advocacy centres on health equity and social justice, social determinants of health, intersectional feminism, and lifestyle medicine.
Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson
Vice President, People, Equity and Inclusion, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson was born in Germany, grew up in Sierra Leone, and completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in Canada and the US. She is a social scientist, consultant, academic, and writer and curator of African identity and leadership stories, and regularly lectures in her areas of expertise. Yabome is the co-founder of We Will Lead Africa, a global network established to share stories and cultivate networks of African leaders whose work impacts the progress of continental Africa. In January 2022, she was named Simon Fraser University’s first vice president of people, equity and inclusion.
Acclaimed author, Professor in the School of Creative Writing, University of British Columbia
Award-winning author and artist Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica and lived for years in Guyana and Trinidad/Tobago. She’s also lived in Toronto and the US – but recently, she settled in Vancouver to assume a professorship in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Here, she teaches speculative fiction through an anti-oppressive lens, and is working to establish a centre for the Black Speculative Imagination to support, promote and connect marginalized voices in the genre.
Founder, Vancouver Tech Journal (also Innovation Ecosystem)
William Johnson is a Vancouver-based writer who channels his passion for tech into Vancouver Tech Journal, a weekly publication that he founded and developed into one of the city’s top technology publications. However, that’s a gross oversimplification of the impact he has had on BC’s startup and innovation ecosystem, which he routinely champions at the national level. If something is happening here, Will is among the first to know, and to know why. He’s also presented at tech events like the #BCTECHSummit, TechVancouver and BCAMA’s Vision Conference. He continues to be an active member of the local community, volunteering with the Vancouver Entrepreneur’s Forum, BrainStation and the Business Council of BC.
Originally from Kenya, Africa, Jackee Kasandy has lived a storied career spanning wildlife and people conservation, advertising and branding, and entrepreneurship. She founded Kasandy to connect North American consumers with sustainable, fair trade clothing and accessories handcrafted by artists in Kenya, East Africa and around the world – plus, she works with artisan entrepreneurs to improve product design, expand their businesses and sustainably increase income. Jackee also co-founded Black Entrepreneurs BC, which helps local Black businesses scale up and become sustainable.
Founder, Colour the Trails
While Judith Kasiama was exploring the British Columbia wilderness in 2016, she noticed that the diversity she saw in the outdoors wasn’t represented in outdoor-oriented stores and brands. In 2017, she founded Colour the Trails, a group that hosts events and workshops for Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are eager to learn hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding in a welcoming, inclusive environment. Judith also started a film festival, Black Like Me – Outdoor Edition, and sits on the board of the Vancouver International Film Festival, as well as the board of the Trans Canada Trail.
Angela Marie MacDougall
Executive Director, Battered Women’s Support Services
For over three decades, Angela Marie MacDougall has been involved in movements for social justice, including community-based organizing, frontline work and activism. She has developed advocacy-based program and service delivery models that address gender-based violence and violence against women, and has spoken to hundreds of groups across Canada, the US and China. Angela is a founding member of Feminists Deliver, a grassroots organization dedicated to shedding light on the urgent issues facing marginalized communities in BC; and a founding member of Intersectional Feminist Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative, which convenes researchers, academics, data and policy analysts, students and the community to collectively end violence and gender inequality. Her work at Battered Women’s Support Services includes providing education, advocacy and support to women who have experienced abuse, as well as educating the community about violence against women.
Founder & executive director, Collective Bunch Society
Acutely aware of the stereotypes inherent in advertising and movies, Jason MacKay resolved to change the narrative by founding Collective Bunch Society, a non-profit community of writers, directors, producers, editors and other members of the film community who identify as BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+. Together, they are committed to elevating diverse voices, shattering cultural bias and leading positive social change. (Photo: Rishid Daroowala Photography)
Mumbi N Maina
Social planner, City of Vancouver
A social planner at the City of Vancouver, Mumbi n Maina is working towards organizational transformation through development of the Equity Framework. Her previous work has focused on grassroots social and environmental justice organizing, anti-racist education, and cross-cultural collaboration with immigrant and other communities across North America. She also participated in a research team at the University of British Columbia working to imagine how Canadian cities can catalyze transformative innovation in tackling colonialism, rising inequities and climate crisis.
Principal, Pender Ventures
A tireless champion of diversity as a mechanism of innovation and expansion, Kenndal is a successful venture capital investor focused on early-stage ventures across IT and health-tech. He has an affinity for purpose-driven founders and a shrewd knack for analyzing the market, both of which he brings to his role at Pender Ventures. He also shares his expertise with the wider innovation ecosystem, serving as director and board observer to numerous organizations in the IT and health sciences sectors. He has also already enjoyed success in another career as a professional athlete in the NHL.
Founder, Ethọ́s Lab
Anthonia Ogundele launched Canada’s first Black-led virtual reality environment, and founded the Cheeky Proletariat Gallery, which offers an accessible and inclusive space for the free expression of all people. Her latest and greatest project is Ethọ́s Lab Educational Society – a non-profit that cultivates innovative and collaborative learning environments for youth. Through Ethọ́s Lab, Anthonia fosters community and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math) exploration through an anti-oppressive lens. To mark Black Futures month, Ethọ́s Lab launched a fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 in 100 days from February and May, with every cent going to sponsor the society’s youth members, programming, and operating funds.
Dr. Ralph Pantophlet
Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Ralph Pantophlet is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, an associate faculty member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and he leads the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Immunology at Simon Fraser University. He is a devoted researcher of international renown for his investigation of antibody responses to HIV and other viruses and continues to apply his findings to the design of immunogens that can be developed into new and better vaccines. His work has been warmly recognized by the Canadian Association for HIV Research, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, and the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, to name a few.
Founder and executive director, Afro Van Connect Society
Dae Shields is committed to spreading awareness about the injustice faced by African communities and showcasing the impact people of African descent have on Canadian and global cultures – so, in April 2019, she started Afro Van Connect Society, a platform for young, Black creatives to convene, collaborate and express themselves openly and honestly. Dae is also a bassist and frontwoman for Ital Blue, a musical group blending hip hop, jazz and R&B, where she communications her lived experience as a woman of African descent and spreads a message of unity and acceptance.
Founder and CEO, Future Capital
Boardroom by boardroom, panel by panel, Marlon Thompson has spent the last five years building a more diverse startup and innovation ecosystem by coaching and connecting newcomers, women, LGBTQ+ and other communities underrepresented in North America’s capital markets. Knowing that diverse founders are more likely to access capital when there are diverse decision-makers in the equation, Marlon founded Future Capital to create a fairer, more representative investor community. He also serves as a board director on the Montreal-based not-for-profit QueerTech, and is a community representative for the volunteer-run-and-operated Rainbow Foundation of Hope, a charity aiding LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers and their families.
CEO, Elevate Inclusion Strategies
Natasha Tony is a sought-after mediator, leadership coach, trainer and labour relations specialist who is committed to advancing the discussion on how to build inclusive organizations. Her former career as an extras casting director for the film industry piqued her interest in diversity – so, she moved into labour relations, and held a role for almost a decade with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Today, she works with organizations in the public and private sectors seeking expertise on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as respectful workplaces.
Founder, Njeri Watkins Consulting
Njeri Watkins has compounded her 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur, data analyst and educator to design leadership programs for entrepreneurs and business leaders, including acclaimed programming centred on the future of cultural innovation and data-driven organizations. She has presented at over 100 conferences, digital technology events, academic institutions and government programs, and co-authored Women of Influence: Stories to Inspire, Encourage and Empower the Professional Woman. Njeri received the distinguished appointment to the team of External Thought Leaders for The Office of Auditor General of British Columbia and featured Thought Leader in Innovation with INNOVATE Vancouver™ for the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Owner, Kula Foods
Asha Wheeldon’s culinary journey began in Kenya, where sharing food with the community is an important part of everyday life. When she was a young teenager, she migrated to Toronto, and was introduced to the wonderful world of West African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisine and culture. After moving to Vancouver, she was inspired to create a unique culinary experience that reflected her travels and connected people on an intimate level to their food and community. The result is Kula Foods, which features Afrocentric, plant-based food rich in flavour and nutrition. The company also offers catering and plant-based manufacturing. Asha’s other exploits include being a co-host and co-founder of Chop It Up and starting a roster of Black-owned businesses in Vancouver, which has since evolved into a directory of over 200 companies.
Executive director, African Friendship Society
Originally from Cameroon, Central Africa, Jacky Yenga is passionate about sharing messages of friendship, togetherness and belonging from the perspective of her African heritage. When she was nine years old, she experienced a trauma of disconnection when she was sent to the West to “live a better life” – but she overcame her struggles, and today is the author of the upcoming The Spirit of the Village: How to break the habit of living disconnected and access joy, as well as a motivational speaker and executive director of African Friendship Society in Vancouver. Throughout her journey, Jacky has remained committed to helping people access joy through movement, rhythm and connection.
“Black History Month provides us with the opportunity to celebrate and learn about the many achievements, investments, and contributions of Vancouver’s Black and African diasporic communities, even while these communities have endured historical and continuing inequality, oppression, and erasure.
“It is not enough to just celebrate Black History Month and highlight past and present leaders in the Black and African Diaspora community. Each and every day we should be honouring, uplifting, and respecting the voices and lives of all members of the Black community.”