C/O Robert Voets, CBS Entertainment

Maryanne Oketch does not get voted off the island and is now the new sole survivor 

McMaster alumna and former Silhouette contributor Maryanne Oketch made headlines earlier this summer for winning a little CBS reality show called Survivor, although we’re sure you’ve heard of it. 

The win marked only the second time a Black woman has won the show in 20 years and Oketch is the second Canadian in a row to win the coveted $1 million prize. 

“I’m just so happy to be able to go and represent my community. But the thing that makes me more excited is that with us having a diverse cast, there’s going to be more firsts that are coming,” said Oketch to Us Weekly

“I’m just so happy to be able to go and represent my community." 

Marryanne Oketch, Survivor Winner and McMaster Alumna

Each cast member of the show has a short bio on the CBS website in which they were given questions to allow audiences to get to know the contestants better. Oketch’s interview has a heavy Sil throwback. 

“What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?” asked CBS. “Writing an article for my school newspaper that led to me being invited to consult with my university’s Equity and Inclusion officer on creating a better framework and support for Black students at McMaster University,” said Oketch to CBS

“Writing an article for my school newspaper that led to me being invited to consult with my university’s Equity and Inclusion officer on creating a better framework and support for Black students at McMaster University."

Marryanne Oketch, Survivor Winner and McMaster alumna

The article that she is referring to is “Diversity without structure”, published in Feb. 2019 by the Silhouette. In the article, Oketch details her experience within McMaster’s integrated sciences through the lens of being one of a few Black students in the program. She called out the university for claiming it’s diverse, yet does not have a sufficient infrastructure to actually recruit and support students from diverse backgrounds. 

“Being able to use my voice for change that not only benefitted me was so empowering,” said Oketch. 

"Being able to use my voice for change that not only benefitted me was so empowering."

Marryanne Oketch, Survivor Winner and McMaster alumna

The interview also featured a question that foreshadowed Oketch’s win, asking why she believed she would win the show and become the sole survivor. 

“I have lived in diverse cities and also been in situations where I was the only black person. But in every situation, I thrived and SURVIVOR is another place where my resilience and personality will shine,” said Oketch. 

The Mac grad hasn’t ruled out returning to the show in the future to defend her title, but definitely wants a break in the mean time. 

“I don’t think that I’ll be returning to Survivor for a while. But it would be very hard to say no,” said Oketch to Us Weekly.

C/O @thebardandbear

The newly opened Bard and Bear Games Cafe is building community through board games 

Apples to Apples, Candyland, Snakes and Ladders and Guess Who: the games that used to fill my days and nights back in childhood, but have somehow gotten lost over the years. Now open on James Street North, Bard and Bear Games Cafe has created a space for game nights, bringing people together over dice, decks and deals. 

Steven and Megan Edmonds are the couple, co-owners and self-proclaimed nerds behind Bard and Bear. Before opening the cafe, Steven went to school for journalism and he also used to work in the board game industry at a local toy store while managing another local board game cafe, Mancala Monk. Megan spent six years at McMaster University, having just recently finished her PhD in the department of English and cultural studies. 

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The Edmonds first tried to open their own board game cafe three years ago, just after Steven had left Mancala Monk and when Megan was in the middle of finishing her PhD. After hearing through the grapevine there was a board game cafe for lease in Guelph, the spark was ignited for the two of them.  

Though they weren’t successful in opening a cafe at the time due to other petitions for the space, the couple has spent the last three years slowly working towards opening their own cafe and finally managed to find the right space at 237 James St. N. for their grand opening on Dec. 10, 2021. 

They chose the name Bard & Bear to represent their family. Though it’s still up for debate whether the Bard is Steven or Megan, the couple said Bear was chosen after the wonderfully ironic name of their dog. 

Normally, people can come to the cafe and pay $5 each as a “game cover”: the cost of sitting and using the cafe’s selection of over 800 games. Staff can recommend and teach games to visitors for those new to board games or simply looking to try something new.  

Some of Megan’s favorites are Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Castles of Burgundy, while Steven recommended Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Power Grid as great all-around games for groups of two to five. 

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The cafe also offers a full menu of food, coffee and alcoholic beverage selections for those looking for a bite to eat, especially during long gaming sessions. 

“[Bard and Bear] is a gathering space that focuses on community and coming together over games,” said Steven. 

For a business whose principle is built on bringing people together in the same physical space, recent COVID restrictions have taken a toll on the cafe as they were forced to close for indoor seating a mere few days after opening.  

As long as current restrictions last, the Bard and Bear is currently closed for in-store dining and play. Out of the closures sprung the idea for their “Game Night to Go!” promotional combos, where people can take out food as well as a game to keep. Further, every combo comes with stamps, which can be redeemed as a free game cover at the cafe once restrictions are lifted. 

“We focused on lots of two player games because we know lots of people are home with a roommate or a significant other and don't have a big group to play with right now. But we've also got ones for families if you're home with your kids or larger groups,” explained Megan.

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Living in often cramped and squished student houses, a trip to James Street is an option for those who don’t always have the space at home to play and store games. For students, the cafe is a great spot for a night off from studying or even as a stop before taking your night elsewhere in the downtown area. 

Once re-opening their in-house seating space, Bard and Bear hopes to offer specials for students on some nights of the week to make the space more accessible on a student budget. 

“Every student needs a chance to stop studying, put down the books for a bit. We are a very student friendly space . . . and if you're stuck on any of your English courses, I just finished an English PhD and I admit I miss talking about books so if you need to run an essay idea by me, you know where to find me,” said Megan. 

"Every student needs a chance to stop studying, put down the books for a bit. We are a very student friendly space . . . and if you're stuck on any of your English courses, I just finished an English PhD and I admit I miss talking about books so if you need to run an essay idea by me, you know where to find me."

Megan Edmonds, Co-Owner of BArd and Bear Games Cafe

They also hope to establish a community for tabletop role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering. Though it can sometimes be difficult as a student to feel connected to the broader community beyond campus, Megan and Steven hope they can help create some connections between students through bonding over a love of games. 

Whether you’re a board game aficionado or just trying them out for the first time, Bard and Bear has a game of every time for players of any skill level. Next time you’re in downtown, put away your phones and bond over some good old-fashioned (and many modern) tabletop games. 

C/O Khadija Hamidu

McMaster alumna Khadija Hamidu has created an online platform to showcase Black culture and the BIPOC community in Hamilton

Activism and social justice movements around the world have greatly shaped this past year. Across Canada and the United States, thousands of people joined in on public demonstrations, protests and initiatives, like defunding the police, while other forms of activism and support took place online. Melanin Market Hamilton is one of the many online communities that have emerged during the pandemic in response to these social justice movements. 

Founded in late January of this year, Melanin Market Hamilton is a project started by Khadija Hamidu, McMaster University alumna of 2016 and now an executive director of Workforce Planning Hamilton. The Instagram page represents her love for community development. It aims to highlight and celebrate Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) creators, businesses, achievements and opportunities in Hamilton. Previously, the page has featured Blackspace, a student-run club at McMaster, as well. 

The Instagram page represents her love for community development. It aims to highlight and celebrate Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) creators, businesses, achievements and opportunities in Hamilton.

“I started doing experiential learning at McMaster and then going into community developing. And that's what made me fall in love with community work and community development as a whole.” explained Hamidu.

Prior to starting the Instagram page, Hamidu worked at the YMCA Hamilton as a teacher. She forged a real connection to the Hamilton community during her time at McMaster and had decided to stay in the city. Although her passion for community work dates back to her undergraduate years doing experiential learning, it wasn’t until the pandemic she found the spark she needed to start Melanin Market Hamilton. 

“I think the pandemic just started this whole new era of Khadija—trying to do new things, trying to focus on things that truly make me happy. Things that I really wanted to focus on was definitely something that highlighted the change of the pandemic,” explained Hamidu.

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Hamidu recognized the struggles of the small businesses during the pandemic and she was inspired to create a platform for them. Melanin Market distinguishes itself from Blk Owned Hamont, an online space for Black entrepreneurs and businesses to showcase themselves, by carrying a broader focus on the BIPOC community as a whole. 

“I think there's a huge community here that needs to be almost uplifted and I wanted to be a part of that and give people the opportunity to showcase the work through my lens, through Melanin Market,” said Hamidu.

“I think there's a huge community here that needs to be almost uplifted and I wanted to be a part of that and give people the opportunity to showcase the work through my lens, through Melanin Market.”

Khadija Hamidu, Melanin Market Hamilton Founder

As part of this goal, Hamidu runs a series called Spotlight Fridays on the page where she interviews BIPOC creators, leaders and business owners, sharing their missions and goals with her audience. 

She is also looking for more collaborative projects with local organizations to better connect members of the community. For instance, she has been talking to Hamilton Bike Share to organize outdoor activities for the Black community and promote healthy living.

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“I think we as Hamiltonians are very proud, and I want to be able to put that into the Black community as well because we are very much focused on local businesses . . . but sometimes, I don’t see that transferring over to the Black community. I want to be able to connect the two a little bit more,” said Hamidu. 

“I think we as Hamiltonians are very proud, and I want to be able to put that into the Black community as well because we are very much focused on local businesses . . . but sometimes, I don’t see that transferring over to the Black community. I want to be able to connect the two a little bit more.”

Khadija Hamidu, Melanin Market Hamilton Founder

Engagement on Melanin Market Hamilton has been great so far. In the early days of operating the platform, Hamidu had to search for businesses and people to feature by visiting different parts of Hamilton and scrolling through social media. However, more people have begun to reach out to her as well. It has grown into a platform well appreciated by both folks from Hamilton and other cities such as Montreal where she promoted a few businesses during her trip there this summer.

“Being able to celebrate the Black community, no matter where I am, I think is the ultimate goal. I’m the type of person to always embrace where I currently am . . . It was just transitioning from Hamilton to Montreal but still keeping the same theme alive,” said Hamidu.

For Hamidu personally, Melanin Market has opened many doors for new connections. Prior to starting the Instagram page, Hamidu explains she very much disliked Instagram and was unaware of groups like Blk Owned Hamont that existed to celebrate the Black community in Hamilton. However, through this initiative, she has been able to discover new businesses and people she never knew existed before. 

Moving forward, she is excited about expanding her work as a community connector and increasing her outreach to include more collaborations with other organizations. 

“The love of Hamilton is clear. I’m happy to be a part of this community and I’m happy to showcase the work that’s being done in this community as much as I possibly can. My love for Hamilton is always going to be here and it’s just connecting the two between my love of the Black community and Black culture as well as the Hamilton area,” said Hamidu. 

Gugu Mpofu shares her experiences of self-discovery, wellness and being Black in South Korea

C/O @gugumpofu

Travelling is a powerful way to broaden your perspective, grow your mindset and indulge in self-discovery. Every year, many students choose to study abroad or take a gap year to discover the world and seek new experiences. However, travelling for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, especially as a woman alone, can be scary.

Researching the safety of the destination for BIPOC is an important part of preparing for a trip abroad. Nonetheless, this did not stop McMaster alumna Gugu Mpofu from moving halfway across the globe to South Korea to teach English.

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Mpofu had wanted to become a teacher since she was in high school. It was also then that she was first introduced to South Korean pop culture through K-dramas and K-pop. Four years after graduating from McMaster in 2014 with a degree in anthropology, she made the bold decision to move to a small city called Jeoncheon in South Korea and teach English.

Although Mpofu was excited to start her new journey in Korea, as a Black woman, it still came with certain fears.

“I was really scared of racism. That was my biggest fear. I was scared to go outside during the day [for the first month] because I was like, “People could see me,” and so I [went] out at night and covered myself up just in case. But nothing [racist] happened in my city,” said Mpofu.

“I was really scared of racism. That was my biggest fear. I was scared to go outside during the day [for the first month] because I was like, “People could see me,” and so I [went] out at night and covered myself up just in case. But nothing [racist] happened in my city,”

Gugu Mpofu

The locals’ response to seeing Mpofu was mostly of surprise and curiosity. Living in an ethnically homogenous country, some were seeing a Black person for the first time. They wanted to learn more about her and approached her with many questions about her story and background.

However, acts such as old ladies touching Mpofu’s hair have occurred throughout her time there. She also recalls one incident when one of her students was feeling her skin and comparing it to their own skin out of curiosity. Despite these incidents, Mpofu was glad that she was placed in a smaller city because to her surprise, she faced more overt racism in larger cities.

Most of the discrimination in bigger cities occurred in the night scene. She has been denied access to a nightclub that claimed to not allow foreigners in even though she witnessed white girls walk in before her.

Another time, she tried to tell a DJ not to use the N-word, only for the DJ to respond with hostility saying, “This is Korea, I can do whatever I want. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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Much of the racism towards other people of colour in South Korea comes from stereotypes picked up from Western media and ignorance of the country’s own problem with racism.

Recently, with increasing global attention from the rise of Korean pop culture and movements such as Black Lives Matter, Mpofu has noticed more discussions about racism in South Korea. She has had conversations with her Korean co-workers and seen more conversations on social media platforms, such as TikTok, about BLM and Korea’s prejudices against other people of colour. Although small, there were also a few BLM protests held in South Korea.

Mpofu found her first few months difficult to adjust to the new culture. The greatest source of support and help for Mpofu was her students, who are still her favourite part of her job. She was her students’ first foreign teacher and they were excited to get to know her.

Living in a small city, teaching is one of the most popular work opportunities for foreigners. This has allowed Mpofu to also meet others who hail from outside of South Korea and even fellow Canadians.

Moving across the world to South Korea has taught Mpofu that she is resilient.   

“I have much more strength than I thought I did and I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. I don’t let fear stop me. I think [moving to South Korea] was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” said Mpofu.

“I have much more strength than I thought I did and I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. I don’t let fear stop me. I think [moving to South Korea] was one of the best decisions I’ve made,”

Gugu Mpofu

Mpofu has also learned more about herself and become more adventurous and outgoing. She is proud of her growth as an independent woman who is able to handle difficult situations on her own and is comfortable being by herself. She has also travelled to other countries within Southeast Asia and discovered more about other culture’s ways of life.

Apart from her job as an English teacher, Mpofu shares her enthusiasm for wellness and travel through her Instagram account where she showcases ways of self-love, growth and self-care. By documenting her experiences in a foreign country as a Black woman, she hopes to show that it is safe for BIPOC to come to these places and have a positive experience.

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The Mindfulness Passport is another aspect of her blog that focuses strictly on wellness and self-awareness. She offers free journal prompts to help people with self-doubt, confidence and healing.

With limited opportunities to travel during the current pandemic, these journal prompts offer a way to practice mindfulness and wellness at home. Being vulnerable and authentic with her own wellness journey has always been important to Mpofu and she is grateful for the positive responses from her audience who are on a similar path and have a similar passion for travel.

“I became this confident woman who was comfortable in her own skin [through travelling] and I just wanted to show other people that they could also be authentically confident,” explained Mpofu.

As a wellness coach in-training, Mpofu hopes to inspire and help others to be open-minded, curious and become their authentic selves.

Jasmine Ellis spreads positivity, creativity and light through her homemade accessories brand

C/O Wildflower Supply Co.

If you are a Disney fan, you may be familiar with the quote, “Do you suppose she’s a wildflower?” from Alice in Wonderland. Underneath the pretty, soft appearance, these flowers have a bold and unique character, growing brazenly and unapologetically almost everywhere in nature.

The resilience, beauty and fortitude that wildflowers represent inspired Jasmine Ellis to start Wildflower Supply Co., a handmade custom accessories brand.

Ellis is a McMaster alumna and previous Social Media Coordinator during Volume 87 of the Silhouette. She developed an interest in jewelry making while creating friendship bracelets for her and her friends. 

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In the spring of 2020, she wanted to pursue jewelry making more seriously by launching Wildflower Supply Co. on Instagram. The first pieces she sold were bracelets with her favourite quotes and custom messages.

Over the past year, she has slowly grown the brand with more custom orders and the addition of different types of bracelets, mask chains and collaboration projects with local poets and businesses.

Ellis credits the rapid success of her business to when she sold Black Lives Matter bracelets in June.

“At the time, I was just screaming into the void, it felt like, on Instagram in support of the Black Lives Matter movement . . . I know that speaking about it on social media is really important, but [I thought,] “How can I tangibly do something that feels important?”,” said Ellis.

In an effort to make meaningful, real contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement, Ellis ran a week-long fundraiser selling her Black Lives Matter bracelets. She received overwhelming support and sold over a hundred bracelets.

At the end of the week, she raised $1,870 which was donated to the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association of Hamilton and Gianna Floyd Fund.

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The idea of sharing quotes through jewelry came from her and her mom’s longtime love of warm and inspirational messages, which are displayed throughout her house. It was also prompted by her first collaboration with poet Rebecca Leighton. Leighton’s lovely words were stamped on a gold cuff.

Ellis’ most recent collaboration was with Oksana Legault, the owner of 30 Wolves Designs, an online jewelry shop for handmade contemporary Indigenousbeadwork earrings. They picked their favourite lines from Indigenous poets to stamp on Ellis’ bracelets and sold them in a bundle with a pair of beautifully beaded earrings by Legault.

“[Collaboration launches] are probably the most intimidating and simultaneously the most fun projects that I’ve worked on for Wildflower . . ."

"[Those projects] make me push myself in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise thought to do, and it’s so fun to hear the creative process of the people that I work with, their stories and the reasons why they opened their business and continue doing what they're doing,” explained Ellis.

Ellis enjoys supporting and working with people who have important messages to share, and these messages are an important aspect of how she decides who to collaborate with.

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Running Wildflower Supply Co. not only fulfills Ellis’ artistic endeavours, but it has also served as a coping mechanism during the current pandemic. As much as the pandemic has negatively impacted aspects of her life, she believes the brand wouldn’t have existed without it. Her jewelry brand is the real-life portrayal of a wildflower that has bloomed despite the harsh conditions, restraints and challenges. 

The response to her accessory brand has all been kind and positive. Interacting with her customers for custom orders is one of her favourite parts of running the business, and she is still blown away by the amount of support she has received since the launch.

“The support from the community is the only reason why Wildflower has a following at all . . . It's the supporters that keep inspiring me to create new things, and they keep giving me new ideas and pushing me beyond my creative boundaries."

"I think it comes from them being themselves, so I encourage people to keep just being the most unapologetic best version of themselves because whenever they do that, in collaboration with me, everything new that I create is my favourite thing that I've created, and that comes from them,” said Ellis.

In the coming months, Ellis will also wrap up her master of teaching at the University of Toronto, and she hopes to begin supply teaching. However, she promises that Wildflower Supply Co. will remain an important community and a priority for her.

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