Shamara Baidoobonso is originally from Jamaica. She was born in Trench Town and grew up in Duhaney Park, both of which are in Kingston. Due to worsening economic conditions in Jamaica, Shamara and her mother immigrated to Phoenix, Arizona when she was nine years old.
Although she grew up poor and was raised by a single mother who became a parent at 18 years old, Shamara was privileged to have role models within her own family. Her mother instilled in her the importance of hard work, persistence, confidence, and hope. Shamara watched her mother spend more than a decade working full-time and raising children while completing her bachelor’s then master’s degrees. She also witnessed her mother stand up for herself and her beliefs against more powerful people. Most importantly, Shamara learned not to be ashamed of who she is—she learned to have pride in herself and where she is from, and to view these as strengths instead of limitations.
As a young girl, Shamara was always acutely aware of social injustices, and she was passionate about challenging the status quo and making change. As a high school student, she volunteered in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. She felt a pull to do something to better her community though, so she organized a group of students and founded a club on campus. Through this group, she and other students helped find sponsors for refugee families, collected clothing and toy donations, did food drives, raised money, helped people connect with opportunities, and painted murals over graffiti. This was Shamara’s first significant experience in leadership, but it would not be her last.
Upon completing high school, Shamara went on to Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy League university, where she focused her time outside the classroom on research, community building, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. This experience set the course of her professional and community-based work going forward. When Shamara moved to London, Ontario to do her PhD at Western University, she volunteered in the HIV/AIDS sector and became very involved in the local Black community where she took on increasingly senior leadership roles. She eventually became the Chair of the London Black History Coordinating Committee and Vice President of the African Canadian Federation of London and Area. Ever committed to bringing people together and building bridges, Shamara was one of the co-leaders of an initiative that brought together Black and religious communities, historians, artists, business leaders, politicians, and many more to save a historic Black church that was a stop on the Underground Railroad from demolition. Using her background in research and community work, Shamara also helped the City of Toronto to develop a framework for collecting race and other equity-related data and to award grants to community-based agencies to address HIV and promote harm reduction. Over the years, she has received multiple awards and honours in recognition of her community work, including a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and recognition in Chatelaine magazine.
As an epidemiologist, Shamara has focused her career on informing health policy at the provincial level. While in Ontario, she conducted research to provide evidence and evidence-informed recommendations to decision-makers. Her focus was on HIV, cancer, programs and services, and health technologies. In her role as Provincial Epidemiologist for Prince Edward Island, her scope is much broader and includes all topics of importance in public health. She provides leadership, and scientific and strategic direction to PEI’s Chief Public Health Office and Department of Health and Wellness on matters related to health data, health surveillance, and health research. She remains actively engaged in research and advisory roles focused on addressing HIV and social determinants of health in Black and socially marginalized communities.
Shamara’s passions are equity and inclusiveness, community building, evidence-informed decision-making, and lifelong learning. She enjoys living in Prince Edward Island and believes it is a magical place to live and raise a family. She resides in Stratford with her husband who always supports her professional and community work, her son who provides endless joy, and her cat who rules over the household.