Many misunderstand the nature of racism that perpetuates in places like Calgary — they seem to believe that Calgary is “safe” in terms of racism.
However, when you are a person of colour you can really testify to the misconceptions of that statement. It may seem less prevalent compared to the rampant atrocities displayed by mass media in different places, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in Calgary. Here, racism is expressed in the underlying, passive-aggressive remarks and mistreatment that seep through the mundane, daily activities. When issues persist in the silence, people will continue in their ignorance and misconceptions. But there are people who rise above these issues and stand up through their hard work and determination, which destroys the notion that Black people aren’t good enough.
Dr. Liza and Shirley Egbogah are sisters who were raised in Calgary and, while proud of their Nigerian heritage, both are grateful for their upbringing here and they believe the city is a great place and helped them become the creative people with the careers they have: one a CEO, celebrity manual osteopath and shoe designer who now lives in Toronto; the other a process improvement specialist and makeup artist, who remained at home.
However, they weren’t sheltered to racism — they experienced it from the time they were in elementary.
“Growing up,” Shirley says, “there was a sense of insecurity because people aren’t familiar with you or your skin, and share ignorant comments. But what helped was working hard, that no one could put me down. My parents just ensured that we were set up to be confident and know who we are.”
Even now as professionals working in the healthcare and fashion industries they are still faced with racism. But that never hindered them from showing up and demonstrating the best quality of work they have to offer.
“My parents have always taught us, since we were young, that the playing field, especially when you’re Black, isn’t equal, so, you have to work much harder. If you do work hard and jump over all those barriers, you can still be successful,” Liza explains.
“But for me, the number one thing that you have to remember when you’re working hard and battling with oppression is that it’s important to take care of yourself.”
Liza dreamed of becoming a doctor from an early age, with the intent of helping people. While studying for her pharmacology degree, she realized she wanted to pursue a career towards a wellness model rather than a sickness model, which led her on the path of chiropractic care. After finishing her degree in Pharmacology at the University of Alberta, she had to leave her life and family in this province, to pursue her career in Toronto at the only school in Canada that offered education for chiropractic care. During her time in Toronto, she met her husband, and they built their life there.
As Liza’s career began to unfold, she felt happy about the help she made in her client’s lives. In her third year of practice, without pursuing these opportunities, she was surprised by being sought after by celebrities such as Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx.
“In my third year of practice, an actor (who can’t be named for confidentiality reasons) googled me,” she says. “I guess he liked my vibe and booked an appointment to see me. He was so happy with his results, he was even saying that everyone else would notice back on set, they’d be asking if he got work done.
“After that, he started referring me to other actors on set, then they’d come see me and refer me to other actors as well.”
Eventually Liza started doing high-profile public events, such as the Oscars, and worked on different celebrities there.
As her career was growing and as she remembered her parent’s advice to work hard and aim high, Liza commenced on a new assignment: Creating aesthetically pleasing high heels that are also pleasing to the feet and posture.
“A patient in the fashion industry told me that (I needed) to make comfortable high heels. After, I thought, ‘I’ve been doing orthotics and modifying orthopaedic shoes for so long, at that point I know exactly what needs to go into the shoe. Aesthetically, I know what it should look like.’ ”
She continues. “So, I learnt the anatomy of a shoe and how to draw it. And that’s how it all started. Then in March 2017, I launched my first shoe, which was the Dr. Liza Pump in two colours.”
Before all of her achievements, though, there were still racial hoops she had to jump through and overcome — but it never discouraged her from reaching her goals and aspirations.
“As soon as I started my practice, I was rejected by this patient — she didn’t want me to touch her because I was Black. After that I knew I had to start my own practice because people will seek me out and I can choose my clients
“I don’t want to be placed in that awkward position again where a racist person declines my care — they don’t deserve my care. By being the best at what I do, they’re actually the ones missing out. I give the best care and I make great shoes, but you don’t get them when you’re racist.”
Shirley on the other hand built her life in Calgary — where there is even less immunity to racism and you still, as a person of colour, have to work harder to reach your goals.
While working in the health-care industry as a manager for patient services and a process improvement specialist, Shirley had sensed the need to defend those who were being subjugated by the system.
“I don’t think people realize how prevalent racism is here in healthcare,” she says. “I feel defensive of this considering I’m a woman of colour and a minority in my department. I’m very protective of how people speak about my staff — because they’re people of colour or because they’re service workers, they look down on them.
“It’s always a conversation for me because we’re all doing our part, we’re all contributing, and so I don’t tolerate disrespect. But it’s definitely there.”
While Shirley works full time in healthcare, on the side she has also built a career in the make-up industry — and has built her own name and brand as a makeup artist since 2012.
“I would do my makeup just for fun, I didn’t think much of it, but I didn’t realize people were noticing the way I did my makeup,” she says. “Then they kept asking for me to do their makeup for them. So, I thought, to actually look into this. I started taking courses — if I’m going to do something, I want to make sure I’m doing my best at it.”
Since furthering her career in the makeup industry, she’s been able to expand her clientele and diversify her portfolio.
“In 2017 I started working with a well-known photographer who works with models,” Shirley says. “Being in that creative space helped expand my clientele. Now I’m at a point where my clients trust me and whatever I envision for their look.
“Building diversity has been great, especially since Black Lives Matter — I’ve been trying to work with more Black models and artists, and just do things that are colourful, bold and diverse.”
But as a makeup artist, Shirley shares that she believes true beauty is authentic beauty.
“There’s something to be said for people that don’t wear makeup — but they’re super confident, and they love themselves, they love humanity, and it shows. For me, that’s true beauty, that’s the most beautiful thing.”
Shirley desires that this kind of beauty will multiply, especially for those who have been victimized by oppression.
“I really want to see Black people just know how strong they are and be able to show themselves in the best light. It’s basically building a ladder upwards; we all need to take the hands of our allies and help each other. We can change the world, we can do amazing things.”
“We need to dream like there’s no barriers to anything. Whatever you want to do, do it — but be your best at it and work hard. And I think we need to always humble ourselves to be able to build and grow stronger and look forward instead of looking back on the things that have held us down.”