“I may identify as black, but do not present as such; and I often question, should I have the right to speak on racial issues that directly affect the black community, as I face racism indirectly?” This quote is from Alexis Joy Potashnik, who lives in the province of Manitoba, Canada, where the Polar Bears roam in northern parts. The overall population of Manitoba at 1.3 million, was once land inhabited by indigenous people of aboriginal cultures who inhabited the land for thousand of years. The southern edge of Manitoba boarders the United States at North Dakota and Minnesota. Its capital city is Winnipeg. Like nearby US cities the climate ranges from blizzards with low cold temperatures during winter months and summer highs of 86 degrees ℉ with humidity due to the many lakes that pierce the Manitoba landscape. Raleigh, North Carolina in January 2020, experienced midday temperature high of 68 degrees ℉ whereas simultaneously Winnipeg was 4 degrees ℉. Manitoba province, part of the British Crown, was created July 15, 1870 in middle of reconstruction, shortly after the emancipation proclamation of 1865 in the USA. The British established a parliamentary system with a local governor and representative from the ‘progressive conservative’ party at the Canadian government under the guidance of ‘liberal’ Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Winnipeg holds the largest population of Manitoba at about 816,000 people, living in an urban area on less than 6% of the total land area with 86.5% of the people! This dense metropolitan area’s ethnic mix is overwhelming majority of European. There is a sizable ‘aboriginal’ population at 11% followed by 9% Filipino. There are no other identifiable nationalities. Canada, unlike the states list their people by country of origin, NOT BY RACE, like the USA.
In the context of Winnipeg, Manitoba Province the parents of Alexa and her sister established a family life. Her mother, Jamaican, and father was Russian. This combination, in this location has a frontier theme. I met Alexa at the very first Black Communities Conference in Durham, NC in 2017. She was part of panel of speakers discussing community initiatives. The panelist were from all over the country and yes Canada. I was fascinated to learn that people of color lived in this cold place. Where? Winnipeg has twice the population of Raleigh and is urban.
Probably the most interesting and obvious visual was that Alexa spoke about her community which was black! Striking as it was, I learned much later she was on a mission for recognition of her culture. Later that year she graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a BA in Human Rights. She was also named ‘Woman of the Year’ by a citywide organization named The Metropolitan Entertainment.
During this time Alexa had established a platform for her message calling it @blackspacewpg. These moves were grounded on what I later found out to be her true talents: voice percussion & drumming. In this venue, her name is MC Woke. This stage name, persona, brand reveals her hip hop beatbox talents into the forefront. See her perform on YouTube and video clips on Instagram MC_Woke.
This past year, at the reception for the Black Community Conference at the Hayti Center in Durham; I saw her again. I was toggling between MC Woke and Alexa. I had already decided to blog about her, though I still knew little. We spoke long distance (Whatsapp) shortly after the conference. I learned more about this intriguing, kind and very open person. Alexa is a millennial. At Hayti we greeted, took pictures, talked for a moment and immediately at intermission she sought to find places to go after the reception. Being a facilitator, I introduced myself to the performers from NC Central University, with whom she quickly befriended. Then with her posse vigorously collected information on musical hot spots to visit during their stay. I’d see her again intermittently during the full conference.
Though I knew my enslaved people had migrated, through the underground railroad, to Canada, they escaped to northern Ontario to get far away from trackers after Britain had abolished slavery in 1832. I had visited Toronto when living and studying architecture in New York (driven to see the Geodesic dome by ‘Buckminster Fuller’). An Alexa in Winnipeg? I immediately thought of her as an Obama baby because of mixed race heritage. She did share growing up heavily influenced by both cultures as her sister chose more European roots from her Russian dad, while she, on the other hand, chose her mother’s African culture. Her choice to embrace blackness turned out to be a blessing for Winnipeg. Her mastering of ‘beatbox’ voice percussion with created @blackspacewpg platform for cultural expression amongst her hip hop peer group in Winnipeg is frontier thinking!
Alexa accomplishments are just beginning. She empowers youth through talks including having done Tedx at the University of Winnipeg. Her performance on instagram using vocal percussions side by side with a Nina Simone video performance showed the depth and level of her talent. Her platform @blackspacewpg (At Black Space Winnipeg) had put her in the mix with poets, singers, hip hop performers, and jazz musicians as their drummer. Her passion for her mother’s culture and her looks gives voice to the many in her community who may otherwise be ignored while accepting her exposure to cloaked racism. Each step you make Alexa Joy Potashnik or MC Woke, you represent our future, our past, and our hope. You are our protagonist! Check her out on instagram. So impressive!
Article by Lillian L Thompson, creative at Lillianonline, LLC
Lillianonline is an art company committed to recognizing the accomplishments of Global Afro Women. We are advocates and promoters through blog, books and drawings. Our company offers positive images applied to lifestyle products, art for exhibits, our publication ‘Influentials’ with speaking engagements, coloring book, and our local black artist influenced workshops. Our website is https://Lillianonline.us.