Harriet Tubman, Sister Moses, did not say I got across the river to freedom. Screw you. There is room for only one of us in the promised land. She took others with her.”

-—Rita Shelton Deverell (from her play Smoked Glass Ceiling)

Rita Shelton Deverell

2022 Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award (Broadcasting and Film)

Television broadcaster, theatre artist, scholar and activist

Throughout her distinguished career in broadcasting, journalism and theatre, Rita Shelton Deverell has stood out for her innovation, creativity and inclusion. Driven by her commitment to social justice, she has focused on telling the stories of those whose voices are often unheard. She co-founded VisionTV, the world’s first multifaith, multicultural network, and is one of the first Black women in Canada to be a television host and network executive. An inspiring mentor, she is a role model for young artists, students and audiences alike.
Born in 1945 in Houston, Texas, Dr. Deverell joined CBC TV in 1973, ultimately becoming a producer and host. In 1988 she co-founded VisionTV, where she produced and appeared on several shows, including the series Skylight (Gemini, Best Lifestyle Information Series) and It’s About Time (Gemini, excellence in mainstream television programming reflecting Canada’s racial and cultural diversity). She also created Arts Express, which explores the intersection between spirituality and the arts.
From 2002 to 2005 she was news director of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and mentored her Indigenous successor.
She retired from broadcasting in 2005 and returned to drama, her first profession. Her play Who You Callin Black Eh? won the Teen Jury prize at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival, and she received a Canada Council grant to create a “pivot” digital version.
She is the author of several books, most recently American Refugees: Turning to Canada for Freedom (2019).
Of her multifaceted career, Dr. Deverell notes, “One of the reasons I have worked at so many things is that when a door or a wall or a glass ceiling is put up around me, rather than beating my head against it, I change direction.”
Dr. Deverell is a trustee of the Royal Ontario Museum, a director of CBC/Radio-Canada, and an adjunct professor at Mount Saint Vincent and Lakehead universities. Her multimedia kit Women, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Resistance (2013), available on the National Film Board’s Campus portal, was produced while she was the Nancy’s Chair of Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent. In 2021 she was named chancellor of Lakehead, the first person of colour to hold that position.
Rita Shelton Deverell is a Member of the Order of Canada. Other awards and honours include two Geminis, the Black Women’s Civic Engagement Network’s Leadership Award, membership in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and ACTRA Woman of the Year.