LifeNews & Views

Meet the Calgarians behind Black Lives Matter YYC

Asking Adora Nwofor to describe herself is not a simple request.

Or, actually, maybe it is.

“The be honest I just describe myself as a regular chick next door, because every day I get up I’m this person, so for me it’s normal,” she says.

Normal is an entirely relative thing. 

Nwofor is, among many things, a mother, a standup comic, radio host, public speaker, podcaster, web creator, model and, increasingly, a social activist — most notably as the president for Black Lives Matter YYC.

Activism, for her, is a natural thing, something that goes back to her upbringing as a “Bible thumper” — she’ll also describe herself throughout the conversation as “a Church girl gone bad.”

“In religion, in general, there’s usually black and white, it’s right or it’s wrong,” she says.

“Living in Calgary as a Black person there were many opportunities for awkward situations that weren’t necessarily so black and white, so I used comedy to save myself and save others.

“And, really, that’s how I fell into activism.”

Outside of that, she also credits her parents — she calls her mother a “bad ass” — and the other strong individuals she was surrounded by who introduced her early to the idea of standing up for oneself, standing up for what’s right

“So for me to advocate for myself or others was not unheard of,” she says.

Still, she admits that standing up and standing out in order to make a difference isn’t something that comes entirely easy, as she admits she’s a shy person, who suffers from anxiety and depression.

You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find anyone who’s heard her speak — be it at any of the BLM events or at the Women’s March — who would describe her as a wallflower.

She’s such a big personality, who has no problem using that voice and rallying a crowd.

“I think people gravitate towards me because I have integrity and I’m willing to hold myself accountable,” she says of her role as leader.

“And I want to have fun doing so.”

Nwofor’s ultimate goal is to amplify Black voices and ideas, she wants to use BLM’s current momentum to create a strong community, while being mindful of the fact that there’s no way you can unify an entire movement

“Because we don’t all want the same things,” she says.

“We all don’t have the same access or skills or opportunity. But I think that if we work together in different places we can create those things. What I want to create most is a way for Black people to access whatever it is that they would like. And I think that we can do that in numbers.”

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been push back. Despite the inherent racism there is in this city and society at large, there’s also been a great deal of backlash to the movement — those not understanding what it is, its goals, purpose or intent.

There are also still small minds who automatically resent being told to change — especially if it’s coming from a strong Black woman.

“Firstly, I do not choose the label, ‘strong Black woman,’ ” Nwofor says. “I am a Black woman, I do not have a choice in being strong. If I’m not strong, I’m dead.”

She continues.

“When people push back against me, I know that that’s not about me, so that’s how I deal with it. If you’re pushing back against me, I didn’t do anything to you … all I’m doing is living in my Blackness, however that manifests in that moment. Sometimes it’s strong, sometimes it’s vulnerable, sometimes it’s hurt, sometimes it’s pain, sometimes it’s flamboyant.

“It has also,” she laughs, “been known to be angry and toxic and harmful, but it’s loving and caring and giving and nurturing also …

“But,” she says defiantly, “I get to live my life on my terms, because it’s mine.”

Black Lives Matter Society YYC

Name, title

1. What got you involved in the BLM movement?
2. Who/what inspires you in your life?
3. What’s your hope for 2021.

Photo courtesy Omar Sherif, LiveWire

Leslyn (LJ) Joseph, Vice President and Co-Founder (she/her)

Bio: Born and raised Calgarian, with a passion for fashion and politics. A founder for BLM YYC and a member of the Defund2Fund coalition.

  1. I got involved in activism because I live in a world that is actively anti-Black and I was sick of looking at it from a purely academic lens and was compelled to do something.
  2. I’m inspired by other activists and advocates around me who drive my insatiable desire to help people.
  3. I hope that 2021 is the first year on the path to a more progressive and inclusive future.

Ken Howe, Treasurer and Security Lead (he/him)
Bio: On the personal side, I am a father of three and a husband. On the professional side, I am an Avionics Technician and entrepreneur.

  1. The death of George Floyd was the final straw for me to be sitting on the side lines. After attending a few protests, I knew I wanted to be involved in the energy and the movement on a more personal and effective level, and joined the team at BLM YYC.
  2. My family, especially my children, inspire me to stand up for equality. I am hoping to leave behind a better world for them.
  3. My hope for 2021 is that we won’t have to reactively protest inequality and injustice … Although this is a high hope of mine, I believe it’s attainable, as it’s clearly attainable for white folx.

Kay L, Executive Director (he/him)

Bio: I wear many hats: an artist, a musician and an activist; working in and working for this great city that I call home.

  1. When I first saw Oscar Grant killed by that officer in Oakland, I felt an urge inside me to try to ensure that these kinds of things didn’t happen again. BLM seemed like the strongest most potent voice for our people, so I knew I had to get involved with the movement to create true change.

    2. Life itself inspires me, I try to observe the inner details of life, like what makes people sad, happy, angry, frustrated, etc. and I try to portray that through my
    activism and my music.

    3. My hope for 2021 is for all of protests and demands for change to be taken seriously by those in power — it’s time for the words to stop and the action to start.

Lena Clayton, Administrative Assistant (she/her)

Bio: An activist, environmentalist and legal professional, who, as a recent transplant, is proud to call Mohkinstsis home.

  1. My activism and advocacy work began with environmental and LGBTQ2S+ issues, but the totality of the trauma witnessed over the last few years proved too much to ignore. Attending protests and reading books just wasn’t enough, when the opportunity arose to support this team in their advocacy work, I was honoured to be able to help.
  2. I am fortunate to be surrounded by some very inspirational women in my life and have had the privilege to work with some incredible people across the west. They have shown me the worth of enduring through the hard work, as the end results and those small wins along the way are necessary and it is our duty to provide this goodness for each other.
  3. I hope for a 2021 filled with more empathy and compassion than the years before and that there will be some substantive changes made within the systems of this city and beyond.

BLM YYC Projects

We have a variety of projects in the mix and different avenues of connecting with the community. 

We are currently working on what we hope will be a series of mentorship programs. Beginning first with a partnership with Local Laundry to mentor BIPOC entrepreneurs as they build and grow their businesses online. 

Soon, some custom labelled beers will be hitting the shelves courtesy of a collaboration with Inner City Brewing and some of Calgary’s best and budding Black artists and creators.

We want to continue to promote and spread Black joy across this city. There is so much incredible talent to be lauded and shared. We had a wonderful online performance back in December with four talented Black and Indigenous women musicians, and look forward to being able to support and host more such events going forward. In fact, at the end of this month, our President, Adora Nwofor, will be performing with Ellipsis Tree Collective.

(Main photo by Leah Hennel.)