When Shanicka “Shak” Edwards first moved to Innisfill from Toronto, it was a difficult adjustment.
“My family was the only Black family in the community. So, I struggled finding spaces that I could see people that were reflective of me or accessing resources,” she said.
Edwards built Shak’s World Community Center, Simcoe County’s first youth mental and physical wellness facility boasting 15 thousand square feet of space for drop-in sports programs, counselling, art therapy, peer support and mental wellness tools for young people. The services, Edwards says are offered at little to no cost.
“We wanted to open our doors to invite community members to a safe space,” said Edwards, “so that the youth of our community that do look like me have someone that’s reflective of that when they walk in.”
But not everyone from the community was on board. One Friday morning in 2021, as she was opening the doors to her facility, a woman approached her.
Edwards says although she was shaken by the attack, her resolve wasn’t. The pain she endured that day simply fueled her purpose.
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“The mission is to create space for everyone, it’s not just for a particular group of people,” said Edwards. “I just tried to continue to share the stay humble and kind method and realize that people cme from all different walks of life. And just because she doesn’t understand our story doesn’t mean she can define our story.”
Ola Odunewu agrees that the mission of Shak’s world is being carried out, because he’s experiencing it firsthand. As a Black kid growing up in Barrie, he’s been grateful for the center’s presence where he can see himself, reflected.
“It’s not everyday in Barrie you see someone your own age, same skin colour, same background doing something that you also enjoy,” Odunewu told Global News. “But here at Shak’s World, it’s like a safe space where we can all come together as one.”
As for responding to the hate, Edward says she lives by the words of her favourite activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“You can’t fight darkness with darkness, only light. You can’t fight hate with hate, only love,” said Edwards. “That’s the message here at Shak’s world. Your character speaks louder than anything else.”