Boss Babe Feature: Alexa Potashnik
New this year to Hustle + Charm is our monthly Boss Babe Pyjama Party which features different local boss babes who come out in their jammies to share their story, educate, and inspire other women. February is Black History Month and as a community who values and celebrates diversity, we think it’s important to use this as an opportunity to highlight black women in Winnipeg who are following their passions, using their voice, and paving the way for other black women (and who are we kidding - women in general!) to break down barriers, crush their goals, and remember that they belong too.
One of our guest speakers this month is Founder and President of Black Space Winnipeg, Alexa Joy Potashnik. Alexa has demonstrated a firm commitment to community development and social justice, influencing initiatives across Winnipeg that promotes diversity and inclusion for BIPOC communities. As the Festival Director of the Afro Prairie Film Festival (Central Canada's first Black Film Festival) and founder of the annual Afrocentric artist showcase Nuit Noire Alexa has worked in creating safer spaces for Black folks and people of colour in Winnipeg. Alexa's work continues to challenge white privilege, dominance and supremacy through grassroots activism and encourages demonstrations of Black, radical advocacy.
How long have you been in business?
I started Black Space Winnipeg in 2016 and did a lot of community, grassroots demonstrations, with our first breakthrough event being the first Black Lives Matter rally in July 2016 at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Since then we’ve done events and programming that challenge people to think critically about anti-Black racism and discrimination and the ways we need to dismantle oppressive systems towards Black communities. Even though Black Space has been around for 3 years I’ve been doing community advocacy work, activism, social justice since I was 18 so seven years now.
What made you decide to build this community?
The lack of Black representation in the grassroots, social movements in Winnipeg. I grew tired of our community not publicly acknowledging injustice happening to Black folks here in Winnipeg and around the world. I also was a student in the Human Rights department at the University of Winnipeg and I just didn’t feel like Black narratives and historical Black movements were openly discussed and taught in my academic career - so as the years went on the more passionate I became to tell these stories and help establish a platform to talk about these issues. I think the lack of representation and awareness of anti-Black racism in Winnipeg inspired me to start Black Space Winnipeg and invest in initiatives that spoke about injustices Black people were facing in our city.
What resources did you use to help you get started?
Social Media was essential in promoting our message and getting information out to the public. When the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile appeared on my timeline and news feeds, that night I remember sitting down at my computer and I didn’t leave for six hours - I built a social platform for Black Space on all the major sites and made the event #NotAnotherHashtag - Black Lives Matter and it grew over night and we had 1,000 people come to show their support and solidarity. I think in the wake of injustice in the 21st century, social media is such a powerful tool to get your messaging and movement out to a large audience. You can build momentum and online campaigns to enact real change in your community. Especially since mainstream-media historically has been used as a tool against Black communities, we’re in an era now that is crucial in challenging discrimination and we’ve taken back our narratives, reshaped them tell our own stories.
What challenges or difficulties have you faced with your community, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced throughout my advocacy career and within my community has been (at times) the feeling of isolation. Community building, social justice education, anti-oppression work is incredibly hard, especially when you openly challenge and discuss ‘controversial issues’ in public being white supremacy, racism, etc. When I first started I was doing the best I could but there wasn’t a toolkit or manual on how to do this so I’ve learned a lot since and have grown from mistakes I’ve made - I think at times people see what they want to see and don’t realize how hard it is and it can’t be just one person working for this cause. I realized the importance of ‘we’ and there’s more power and stability with ‘we’ - ‘I’ won’t get you very far, because you'll burnout and in this work you need help and people you can build with.
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments since you started your community?
I’m happy to have been apart of initiatives that promote people in our community, their talents and achievements. Black Space Winnipeg has three core annual events/programming that I’m proud has made a small difference for members in our community. We have our annual Afrocentric artist showcase that happens during Nuit Blanche called Nuit Noire and it’s a night dedicated to Black artists across all artistics disciplines to showcase their work, so that’s going on it’s fourth year. Another is the Afro Prairie Film Festival which started in 2018 in partnership with the Winnipeg Film Group and it’s a festival to support emerging and established Black filmmakers across Canada. This festival was also inspired a lot from the work of a pioneer Black filmmaker in Manitoba, Winston W. Moxam and we have this in celebration of Black History Month.
In 2018 we also took the conversation of mental health in our community and created a community support program for Black folks in Winnipeg who want to work towards better mental health practices and work through trauma called Project Heal. This program is probably one of the most important services we offer and it’s been amazing to see the positive effects it’s had on the community. Those programs with Black Space I'm very proud of and happy they exist for our community. I’ve also been the recipient of community awards that has recognized my work as the CBC Future 40, the Sybil Shack Youth Award from the Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the African Community Awards - I spoke at WE Day, TedX and have been invited to conferences to speak on my work so I’m just happy and blessed I get to share that love with people who believe in our message.
What are 3 things/lesson you've learned about being a community leader?
Don’t take anything personally and every time you think of quitting, think about why you started.
Stay calm and don’t overwork yourself.
There are people out there who will always value you what you do and don’t get caught up in competition for the title.
What advice do you have for local brands/bloggers/businesses/organizations when it comes to sharing inclusive content and messaging?
If you want to do anything that involves promoting diversity or inclusion for communities and people of colour - make sure you have people on your team who come from and identify with those communities to deliver that messaging. Don’t speak for others when you’ve never lived that experience. A real ally knows when to be silent and support. Make connections with people genuinely to authentically diversify your content and audience.
Do you offer any products or services? If so, please describe.
Black Space Winnipeg has an Anti-Racism & Diversity Workshop that offers local businesses, organizations and institutions education and encourages participants to engage in conversation and activities that break down methods of systemic discrimination, racism and educate on anti-racist practices and procedures. Our goal is to facilitate dialogue that addresses the ways in which racism affects our daily lives and how to reduce racial discrimination and promote strong models of diversity and inclusion throughout our environments.
Are you launching anything new this year that you can tell us about?
It’s still in the works but there is potential to work with the province in creating a curriculum that promotes Black history and education for students in Manitoba so I’m happy about that.
Do you have any tips for others on how to start a community or organization?
If you’re waiting for something to start in your community on an issue or topic that you’re passionate about, you’re most likely the person who needs to start that initiative. Don’t be afraid to create something that is underrepresented in your community.