Black Lives Here: Tamara Shelly helps people focus on self-care and love

Tamara Shelly is the co-owner of Classic Juice Co. at 287 Coxwell Ave. Photo by Mimi Liliefeldt.

By MIMI LILIEFELDT

The new year is often a time for reflection and resolution. As this month passed, I too thought about what sort of changes I wanted to implement in my life. It may sound cliché but pausing to take stock of your path is an important part of personal, social, and global development.

It’s undeniable that every individual’s actions influence our environment. The people in our orbit constitute the society we live in which shapes our opinions and culture; that in turn goes further outward every time we travel, post on social media, or interact with the world at large. For this reason, it is critical that we strive to not only do better for ourselves but also for each other.

I haven’t met anyone who has articulated this truth more strongly than Tamara Shelly. Tamara is the co-owner of Classic Juice Co. on Coxwell Avenue by Gerrard Street East, between the Dollarama and No Frills. She owns the shop with her partner Cliff Watson.

Tamara’s parents are from Jamaica and came to Canada (separately) as teenagers in the 1970s. Born and raised in Canada, Tamara grew up in Mississauga, and learned about the harsher realities of her existence in white society quickly.

“I was always the only Black girl in my class or the only Black girl in my grade, sometimes maybe there were two of us. I was taught at a really young age that you have to work hard,” she said. “People are going to try to set you back because first of all you’re Black, and secondly, you’re a woman. That’s a conversation I had with my mom at a very young age. I don’t even think I’d hit Grade 1 yet.

“Having pride in your culture and who you are is something that I think is synonymous with being Jamaican. I was raised by Jamaican parents and one of the things Jamaicans pride themselves on is being very hard workers. Take pride in everything that you do. Make sure that you can stand beside your work and feel proud of it. It was clear that anything we did we were representing more than just ourselves.”

This is the work ethic and mindset Tamara practices at Classic Juice Co. She started the business in 2018 and two years later the pandemic hit, which meant having to overcome all kinds of unforeseen obstacles, and they are still working their way through.

When I asked her what keeps her going, she said, “This is my path. This is what I feel is my purpose. I’ve always seen myself as a healer … I love to help people, with really meaningful stuff. I love to sit and talk with people and offer advice, wisdom, something that really leaves people feeling better … juice is kind of the catalyst in which I can do that and allow people to focus more on self-care and love.”

Self-care is an overused buzz word, but in this context it’s worth exploring the privilege of this act. Most of us think of spa days or skin care routines or even taking the day off from a stressful job, but for many folks this level of indulgence isn’t a reality. What Tamara is referring to is the ability to consciously do something healthy for oneself and how that individual’s care affects the world around them.

“I believe that self-care is a part of something bigger. It means that when you’re healthy and other members of the community are healthy, it creates a stronger community, a stronger world, a better planet. I think that healthy people make healthy choices. And I think that a lot of society’s ills and the world’s issues are because people are not well,” said Tamara.

This pronouncement reminds us of radical Black feminist and author, Audre Lorde’s quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Historically, Black women have been at the bottom of society. Their basic needs and rights have been ignored or outrightly denied, which puts them in the most vulnerable category. This is why self-care for a Black woman is a revolutionary act.

Which brings us back to Tamara, who was taught by her strong, intelligent, and determined mother to not only know her rights but to fight for them and look out for others.

“There were so many times I had to reckon with real life and I’m just like, ‘oh my god, what if my mother did not teach me this?’ … I think wow, I’ve never had the void of identity, or knowing my place in this world as a woman and making space for myself as a woman and not taking sh** from anybody, not as a woman, a Black woman, a Jamaican, just like hell no. (I) Just know when to push back,” Tamara told me.

Much like her childhood idol, Martin Luther King Jr. Tamara knew she wanted to be a leader and she wanted to make a difference in this world. Which is why after years of being unhappy in her telecommunications job she was finally able to leave and take the time to figure out her purpose.

“I was searching for myself. What is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing here? And then I went to the Ikigai model, which is about (finding) your purpose. What do you love to do? What brings you joy? What can you make money doing? And it’s somewhere in this matrix and in the middle of that is your purpose,” Tamara shared with me.

Finding one’s path is not always an easy road, it takes time and commitment. But nothing of true value ever comes without effort.

Tamara reflected, “During this journey I said, ‘this is the revolution, this is where it starts’. I went through it myself and I found the more conscious I became of what I put in my mouth and how much I challenged myself to not eat certain things, I started to become aware of setting boundaries. You start to detox your life, when you start to eat a certain way, your life starts to become detoxed as well because you’re more aware and in tune with yourself … Same with the TV that I watch, the literature that I absorb, things like that. It’s all an absorption. What we absorb is effectively what we put out.”

The more she considered these values, Tamara was able to arrive at her answer. “I want to make a difference through food, and I feel like juice is the vehicle for that because it is absorbed into your blood stream right away … this is it. This is what I’m going to pour my energy into. This is what I’m going to offer,” she said.

Four years and one pandemic later, Tamara’s dream is doing exactly what she’d hoped; she is a leader in her business and positively impacting society by promoting health, one individual at a time.

The challenges she has faced growing the company are rewarded by the glowing reviews and accolades she has received from her clients for providing a quality product that nourishes more than just your body.

The juice shop is a community hub that provides a plethora of healthy options in every colour of the rainbow. It is also a support for underserved BIPOC youth through their Pay It Forward program.

A visit to their shop means a warm welcome, a healthy beverage, and a sense of belonging.

So, while you’re sipping your delicious freshly made juice, know that when you are doing wholesome things for yourself, there is much greater possibility for you to do wholesome things for others.

If we truly want a connected and peaceful world, then it is worth remembering what Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at mimi@missfit.ca


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