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Sarah Yankoo

Sarah Yankoo

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Sarah Yankoo

Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation

Bachelor of Environmental Studies 2013

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

At that time, I wanted to be an English and Drama teacher. I even planned to take French as a second language to increase my chances of finding employment post-graduation. I applied to York amongst other Toronto area schools because I had relatives who went to York. After visiting the Glendon Campus, I found it was so beautiful and tranquil. My friend and I both applied and we moved into residence together.  Having a friend from high school attend university with me made the decision and transition a lot easier.

During my time there, I ended up dropping a course, and decided to fill it with an environmental studies class – “Local Food and Agriculture in the GTA”. It was taught by a PhD Alumna Lauren Baker, who was the Executive Director of FoodShare at the time, now the Director of Programs for the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.  I don’t know how I got into that course, because there were people literally knocking on the door looking to be in the class because it was full – however, I am glad I did! That course totally changed the entire trajectory of my life. It was almost by design, that I was meant to be exactly where I was supposed to be. 

After that course, I just knew, I wanted whatever else this Environmental Studies program had to offer, and I didn’t care if it meant travelling from Glendon (the area I lived in) to the Keele campus. There were lots of great resources, opportunities, events (and food!) at the Keele Campus. I was still connected to Glendon and took all my English minor classes there. I was also able to take courses in Environmental Studies which also led to the Indigenous Studies Certificate.

Describe how the program prepared you for your post-graduation journey.

It felt like the future and past collaborated and designed the entire program that was for me.  Everything that I’ve done since was created by what the program provided. There isn't any aspect of what I do now that doesn't feel like it was like informed and supported by my BES; all of the disciplines that I feel blessed and equipped with.

York showed me value in areas that that I didn’t even consider.  As I said, I wanted to become a teacher, but what York had to offer completely changed that trajectory.  The options in front of me unveiled so many different possibilities.  But, there was a lot of navigating that I had to do, it wasn’t an easy feat. It required fortitude, vision and perseverance and a lot of it.  So, when you say it’s a two-way street, I would say that reciprocity is very important, you have to design it and commit to it.

I had some really amazing professors I really was blessed and they are another reason why it felt so destined  and designed to be where I was because in the Indigenous Studies Certificate I was taught by Professor Bonita Lawrence.  She wrote a book about urban Indian identity (Real” Indians and Others - Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood) and she was doing research for a book about my people, the Algonquins, and our land claim. But being able to take so many different courses with her was incredible. She was, and is still, so important to everything my life.

Could you speak a bit more about your identity and share your narrative and how York allowed you to experience that and how it shaped the work that you’re doing.

Let me give you one example.  I was sitting in Bonita Lawrence’s Intro to Indigenous Studies class and it was approaching the winter break when we were studying the 60’s Scoop.  It wasn’t until then that I realized that what happened with my mother and her family, had happened to so many Indigenous families.  Essentially, many people who attended residential schools – during and after that time period – many Indigenous peoples weren’t taught how to be parents.  As a result of that, there was a continued effort to apprehend indigenous children and place them in non-native households to be assimilated.  It was a concerted effort and there was a recent court case that actually provided compensation to people who were affected and lost their culture.

So, my mother and her sisters were all apprehended except for the eldest one, and her brother was never seen again.  The only memory my mom has is of dropping him off at a farm.  Though she tried, she still hasn’t found him.  And that happened a lot to the boys.  My mom's family has a broad experience of the 60’s scoop. My mother was placed with one family and was never adopted, but permanently fostered and it was a good decent upbringing, she had a good life.  On the other hand, my aunt Lynda went through so many different homes and so many different hardships and was emancipated at 14. But, she went to the University of Toronto, obtained a master’s degree and used that knowledge to put our family history together.  That was another reason that I was so driven to go to school.  With that knowledge, my aunt Lynda applied to find my mother. When my mom decided to have a child, she wanted to have more genetic information.  When she applied she was notified that she has a sister who is looking for her and was asked if she wanted to meet her. Together, they found my aunt Bev and aunt Yvonne and discovered that that they had another sister who passed away in care. They still haven’t found my uncle Donny.

Book by Sarah's aunt Lynda - "Lillian and Kokomis: The Spirit of Dance"

So, as I’m going over my readings for the 60’s scoop in the intro to Indigenous studies class, I knew that this was part of my life, and upbringing but I didn't think about it critically – it was just life. At that time, I was non-status, and internalized messaging like “Canada doesn't recognize me as indigenous”. I was going through the readings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in the 1990s and I see that my aunt Lynda had spoken at one of the Royal Commission hearings. Her words made it into the report, and she’s talking about my family. And that was one of the moments where what I was experiencing at York shaped my identity. I tell that story, because as a student in the program, I had a ton to unpack and it I would have been on an entirely different journey if it weren’t for what Bonita provided me through York.  She really gave me the tools to be able to enter into any space and be my full authentic self.

I'm proud to say that my Aunt Lynda has also published a book "Lillian and Kokomis: The Spirit of Dance", which is a story about Lillian, a girl of mixed Indigenous and white ancestry who has been shuffled from foster home to foster home as long as she can remember. She doesn’t feel like she fits in with the white kids nor the Indigenous kids in school. Yet, through a spirit that helps her remember her traditional ways, she manages to eventually find happiness and a sense of belonging.

What did your post-graduation journey look like?

After I graduated, my first role was as an intern at the Council of Ontario Universities, and the first project that I worked on was the self-identification of university students.  Being Urban, coming from the 60 Scoop, dismantling the connection between me and my mother’s family, and growing up with my father, and my indigenous identity, it is not an understatement at all that I feel that the programs and my experience at York have impacted my career trajectory and personal development because of the wide spectrum of what I could study.  So, to put all these fundamental pieces together and understand my indigenous identity in this context, it seemed once again that everything was by design, in that I concluded my academic journey, and started my career with a project about indigenous student self-identification in university.

Fast-forward to what I am doing in my current role as Senior Policy and Research Analyst at Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, we’re still working on the identity politics of our claim.  From the personal to the national levels, the program gave me the opportunity to explore my own personal narrative looking at different perspectives and understanding the geopolitical contexts of what Indigenous identity in Canada is like.  I would not have been able to relate to everything I work on in my current career without Toronto, and York being located in that city – it was a huge part of who I am.

Right now I'm a Senior Policy and Research Analyst at Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.  And I’ve been working with them on and off for the last few years.  Before my current role, I would be working on technology and communications. I even worked in the public works department and the Cultural Center.  The economy over here is a bit different, and because I’m self-employed, I’ve had to be creative with my career/work opportunities.  So, I did a lot of website development, working in the arts sector – these work opportunities and family support gave me the capacity to subsidize my transition out of Toronto to the Algonquin area.

I’m really grateful for the diverse experiences I have had, because with the First Nation, it was a single employer kind of place, that had a culture that wasn’t as receptive to the ways that I was thinking (because of environmental studies).  I feel that things have changed because we are imagining what self-government would look like post treaty and dealing with this current pandemic reality.  I work directly with the Chief and Council on so many more issues, and my ideas are received better than they were when I started working with them five years ago.  They're more attentive to the fact that there are potential global realities that First Nations could prepare, adapt and be ready for. 

Looking back, I think of when I first approached the First Nation, there wasn’t an immediate opportunity. So instead I refocused on a new initiative I had just started working with, the Ontario Indigenous Youth Partnership. Through that work, I was able to create engagement with the members of the First Nations team, whereby I carved out a space with them where I could bring my experience and resources to, a list of all the charities, networks I was connected to through this Partnership, as well as mentioning all the courses I had taken at York with an open offer to help in any way. I persevered and, when the opportunity came up, I landed this job but, I remember feeling discouraged at first and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way, so when I work, make sure that I'm pulling people up.

Well now I say to myself, “You persevered, and look at you now, five years later and the changes you’ve made!” 

Tell me a little bit more about some of the projects you’re working on

The work that I’m doing right now is so personally validating.  All of the things that people dreamed about in the past are becoming more and more possible and that is because of technology.  Technology became so much of a part of what I do. For one of my projects I got a drone, so I’m working at the intersection of art and technology.  So much about my life just set me up to be good at what I do and it impacts so many people that it is like an infinite loop of gratitude.

A few years ago we started working on all the different parcels of land that have been proposed in our Treaty. We put together presentations and mapped out all of the land. We shared information about the size of the land, what is nearby and the current users of that provincial crown land in an effort to conceptualize and present it in a community meeting where we could build some understanding of what this Treaty is going to mean on the land. Most of the proposed land is really inaccessible, so we wanted to take a bus of people to some of the parcels of land, and literally be on the land because it was a land claim. We knew that able-bodied people could hike around and check out the land, bring their four wheelers and cruise around and get a handle on it.  We also needed to make sure that the elderly and disabled individuals could experience it, and not all of our members live in territory, that need to see the land. Actually 4/5th of our people live off-reserve, half of that, out of territory. So, the only way I could think about making the land accessible was through drone footage.  And because I have background in making videos and editing, I thought we could make something that gives people an alternative way of interpreting what these land selects are and then what it might mean for us in the context of our negotiations.

Britt McKee

Britt McKee

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Britt McKee

Executive Director, EcoSource

Master in Environmental Studies 2011

"We need a groundswell of action to achieve the change required for a sustainable future, so everything you do – no matter how big or small – contributes to the greater good...It is this diversity of perspectives that will help us come up with the best solutions."

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

While I was completing my undergraduate degree in visual art, I had the opportunity to participate in the community arts certificate program (now the Certificate in Cultural and Artistic Practice for Environmental and Social Justice) led by the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. This program encouraged me to combine my passion for the arts with my commitment to environmental and social change and inspired me to use my skills as an artist to help build more sustainable and connected communities.

After graduating with my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009, I decided to continue this learning by completing the Master in Environmental Studies. What excited me most about this program was the ability to create my own self-directed plan of study that synthesized my interdisciplinary interests in the arts, environment, and education. This interdisciplinary approach is something I am passionate about and believe is necessary to achieve a sustainable future.    

Britt on the Job

What experiences from York helped shape your career journey?

What was most valuable for me was the on-the-ground experience I gained during my graduate studies. I appreciated having the flexibility to develop my own plan of study which balanced coursework with real world experience putting my learning into practice. I remember having such powerful learning experiences in class, but it was the thoughtful mentorship of my professors, particularly my research advisor, Sarah Flicker, that really encouraged my personal growth and development. I found myself studying arts-based research methods, popular education, and public policy, and I was immediately hooked on exploring the intersections between what I was learning and how these ideas could be applied together in transformational ways. My advisor’s support for my creative approach was also something that really resonated with me. She helped me see how my background in the arts could be used not only as a tool for community engagement but also as a way to advocate for change.

Over the course of the program, I had the opportunity to lead two community-based art projects that amplified the voices of youth in the community - one supporting youth with exceptionalities to make a public mural celebrating diversity and a zine project with tweens about relationships and their school environment. I learned more from the participants in those projects than any textbook. They taught me the value of listening to, learning from, and supporting the leadership of youth and other members of the community in working towards social and environmental change, which is one of the most important lessons that continues to guide my work.

Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?

As Executive Director of Ecosource*, I apply my diverse skills and passions to promote environmental education in the Region of Peel. It is difficult to choose just one project that I am proud of because there are so many. I have seen the power of community-based action through building new community gardens, working with students on environmental campaigns, and engaging residents in creating vibrant green spaces with multiple ecological and social benefits. When I think back on the highlights of my career, it is this hands-on transformative work that I am most inspired by - tearing up asphalt with crowbars and replacing it with native plants, coming home with soil under my fingernails after planting in our community gardens, sharing food and stories with residents at a community meeting about a stewardship project, and so much more. It is these experiences that have demonstrated to me what we can accomplish when we work together.

What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?

I am an avid gardener and love sharing this passion with my two children. We spend our summers growing vegetables in our backyard and recently started a hydroponics garden to grow fresh herbs indoors. We are also dedicated to the stewardship of the urban ravine behind our house and have started working with our eldest to organize community clean-ups. I am passionate about this kind of community service and hope to inspire my children to connect with their neighbours and care for the environment we share. I’m currently Vice-Chair of Green Communities Canada and a member of the City of Mississauga’s Environmental Action Committee which offers advice and recommendations to Council based on the Living Green Master Plan.

Britt speaking at Food Fest

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve in the next 1-5 years?

We need action now in order to address the climate crisis and I plan to continue to advocate for policies and programs that will lead to a more just and sustainable future. We are facing really big environmental issues that need more than just education to solve. We also know inequities in our communities are deepening and the root causes of these inequities need to be urgently addressed. This requires an approach that goes beyond the conventional non-profit model of service delivery to include more advocacy and policy work. I am personally committed to working toward this kind of systems level change in the environmental sector.

What advice would you give current/prospective students?

We need a groundswell of action to achieve the change required for a sustainable future, so everything you do – no matter how big or small – contributes to the greater good. I’d also encourage current students to think about what skills they have to contribute to the cause. It may be that you have a great technical or scientific background, or maybe you are a passionate educator, or you could be an artist like me. Whatever it is, develop your special combination of skills and apply it creatively to solve the problems you face. It is this diversity of perspectives that will help us come up with the best solutions.

Michael John Long

Michael John Long

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Michael John Long

Contract Faculty Professor, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, George Brown College

Master in Environmental Studies 2008

"EUC allows for the ability to explore and amalgamate interests in a way that leads to personalized and inspired careers, and does so among a community of people that makes it feel like a home. So, lean into that freedom and those connections."

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

I grew up in the lakes and forests of the Simcoes and the Muskokas, and always felt a push to work in service of that which provided me so much adventure and refuge. I was drawn to study the environment at EUC because of the long history and strong reputation, the faculty and their work, and the openness and ability to conduct interdisciplinary work as a graduate student.

Describe how the program prepared you for your post-graduation journey?

I began and developed a deep love for teaching as a Teaching Assistant while being enrolled as student in the Master in Environmental Studies (MES) program at EUC. It was during my years working on Global Environmental Politics (ENVS 3340), Global Justice and International Humanitarianism (ENVS 4312) and Environmental Law (ENVS 3420) that my teaching practice was born. In support of that practice, it was also during this time that I volunteered with Planet in Focus (PIF), an environmental film festival which has its roots in EUC, and which has been instrumental to my work.

Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?

I am notably proud of the student club, the Sustainability Squad, at George Brown College, with which I have spent the last 4 years as Faculty Advisor, and among which are the next generation of environmental leaders. In fact, my appreciation for student clubs developed while I was a graduate student at York University. In particular, my time with the Environmental Law Society (ELS), which was made up of M.ES., LL.M., and Ph.D. folks from across EUC and Osgoode Hall Law School, was instrumental in building life-long friendships (Hi Bart Danko, M.ES., J.D.!) and the skills I needed to do well in my work.

What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?

A black coffee, a toasted bagel and a walk in a conservation park make up a perfect weekend morning at my house. I also enjoy volunteering with the Emergency Food Box Program at Black Creek Community Farm. But while in relaxation mode, I love watching every and any environmental documentary I can get access to.

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve in the next 1-5 years?

I plan to continue to advance my teaching practice by further delving into professional development opportunities, creating and teaching environmentally themed courses, and supporting the student sustainability movement at George Brown College through the Sustainability Squad and research/writing projects. In the next 5 years, I hope to have inspired a gaggle of environmental advocates.

Adeye Adane

Adeye Adane

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Adeye Adane

Social Support Worker, Centre 454 - A Ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa

Bachelor in Environmental Studies 2020

 
“Take advantage of Student Counselling, Health & Well-being services. There are many resources available to students, ask questions and advocate for yourself, because there are staff and faculty who will help you along the way.”
     

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

Initially I wanted to pursue a career in fashion. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a fashion designer. But as my eyes opened to pollution of the fashion industry, I realized I could not be a designer in good faith, until I learned about sustainable fashion and sustainable practices. After I finished my program/certificate at George Brown college, I looked into many Universities offering Environmental Studies programs. York had a great reputation and the Faculty was small and felt like a family. I was offered some great entrance scholarships, that really helped me during my 1st year.

When I was exploring Undergraduate programs, I appreciated that my questions were answered on time and that I had the opportunity to have a personalized tour of the University led by a staff member and current student peer mentor.  As a Black woman, it resonated positively with me to experience diversity at York prior to becoming a student, as my personalized campus tour was led by a Black female staff member.

Adeye with her trusty Janome sewing machine.
Adeye with her trusty Janome sewing machine.

What experiences from York helped shape your career journey?

I got resume and interview practice help from Rosanna Chowdhury, the Experiential Education Coordinator at the Faculty – she was so helpful.  But even more importantly, my studies were so much more than just environmental studies, they taught me about the liberal arts and provided me with knowledge about social justice.  The courses demonstrated the diversity of fields available to graduates from Environmental Studies in multiple industries and sectors – public, private, environmental sustainability to community engagement. 

An example of how the program prepared me is reflected in how I came to be the current Youth Program Coordinator for the Ethiopian Community Association in Ottawa (ECAO). Being of Ethiopian descent, I gravitated towards this community organization.  My studies allowed me to critically examine some gaps and enabled me to think about the ways I could support or fill those gaps.  I took the initiative to approach the association and mentioned that there is a gap in their programming and that the could benefit from a Youth Program.  I presented the ways in which they could create this by putting into practice the education I had in social justice, as well as the professional skills I developed through presentations and report writing. In this role, I’ve helped the Association to rebrand their website, create a Twitter and Instagram account as well as a number of other resources to serve Ethiopian Youth in Ottawa.

Ultimately the people you meet at York might be your future bosses or have a friend who can connect you to a job. When you’re struggling they can provide you with interview tips or general support. If you grow up with no connections or access to resources (social or financial), it can be difficult to find opportunities.

Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?

I’m really proud of becoming the Youth Program Coordinator for the ECAO. Because our culture is very religious and a lot of our events are centered around the Mosque or the Church. That’s how youth spend quality time together, that’s how they make friends, and I felt like there was a gap in secular programming which brings people together regardless of religion and based on common interests.

I’m proud that I’m hearing people tell me ‘I didn’t know you guys existed until you got an Instagram’. In January we had a feature of Ethiopian Owned businesses in Ottawa to garner support for them during the pandemic, we also raised funds for ECAO capacity building by selling hand-painted face masks with the colours of the Ethiopian flag, and we established a yoga program for youth. In February, we started a tutoring program as well. I’m proud of all of these things but I am really looking forward to meeting people face-to-face.

What was your post-graduation Journey like?

I was struggling to find work, right after graduating in June I applied for everything under the sun, and I was not hearing back from anyone. That’s realistic because we’re in a pandemic. One day, I saw a volunteer opportunity as a podcast host for Relay – a Green Charity. Even though the position was unpaid, I saw it as a great learning opportunity and I had to apply, and I’m so glad I did, because I was the successful candidate! While I was volunteering, I learned more about networking through interviews with green professionals.  Because I was also actively looking for full-time employment, I managed to get an interview and was approved to be a candidate for a position to work as a Social Media Coordinator for a different Green Non-Profit. However, when the job funding fell through and I was asked to do the same work for no pay, I respectfully declined. I mentioned this incident to my supervisor at Relay and he listen and empathized with me.

After a few weeks, my supervisor mentioned to me that there was an Eco Canada Fund available to pay me for the work I’d already been doing as a podcast host. He completed the application and I became a salaried worker at Relay for 6 months. That was amazing and I was glad he was thinking of me – it was a reminder that when networking it’s okay to share the challenges or opportunities that you are experiencing.  The purpose of networking is to connect genuinely with people without expectation, but with purpose. In this case, I shared a story of frustration with a colleague, and I had no idea this grant existed or that he was going apply on my behalf for this grant. Although my internship ended after six months, it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.

Now, less than two months after that internship ended, I have found a new role as a Social Support Worker for Centre 454, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. Centre 454 is a day program serving people who are precariously housed or homeless in the Ottawa area.

What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?

I’m a fashion designer at heart. I tried to walk away from it, and I was like “No! Climate needs me, the planet needs me right now. I need to sacrifice this thing that I love.” I learned that you don't always have to pick you can do several things in moderation.  So, on January 1st I made New Year’s Resolution to open an Etsy store, and I did. It’s called Trisu Vintage and it’s a size inclusive, unisex store where I sell vintage items and I’m also going to start making masks out of upcycled fabric. And I love it. For me, this is fun.

Designs from the Trisu Vintage Etsy Store
One of the mask designs by Adeye

What advice would you give current/prospective students?

Really take advantage of Student Counselling, Health & Well-being. That was probably the biggest help that I had. If your mind is right then homework, friends and everything else will just fall into place. I had an amazing counsellor who was a certified psychologist. The quality of help I got from her was incredible. There were a lot extra steps at the beginning, but now it’s much more streamlined and on a drop in basis. The point is that there are resources available to students, ask questions and advocate for yourself, there are staff and faculty who will help you along the way.

Hawa Mire

Hawa Mire

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Hawa Mire

Principal Consultant, HY Mire Consulting

Master in Environmental Studies 2017

"Our communities need us in order to continue to produce innovative research that actually reflects our lives. Scholarship can be used as a force for good so long as it disrupts the status quo. Your experience and expertise is valuable, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Be Bold! Have Courage! And reach out to those of us who have managed to thrive - we will help."

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

I chose the MES program at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (now part of the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change) because it was one of the few programs in the country that didn't require an undergrad degree to attend. My work, volunteer and organizing experience were all taken into account and recognized as part of my admissions package.

I had also learned about Professor Honor Ford-Smith's work around storytelling, orality and the arts and that was a key area of interest. In speaking with her, I was moved by her deep connections to community members. The application at that time just made sense for me and the work I wanted to do. 

How did the MES program prepare you for your post-graduation journey?

My experience in MES program prepared me to strategically and effectively navigate institutions. From learning how to secure funding and scholarships, to understanding labour movements and unions, working with professors and meeting course requirements - these were additional skills I learned outside that classroom while obtaining my degree. Now more than ever in the work I do I'm able to apply these skills in order to navigate institutions and organize effectively to make positive change.

During my time in the program, I also took advantage of the opportunity to take courses at other institutions, such as Ryerson and University of Toronto. This allowed me to work and study with visiting scholars in York and in Toronto, who were instrumental for my research and work in the program but also in the community.

A turning point in my program was when I was able to do an Independent Directed Study (IDS) working with a group of Somali women at a local organization. Their stories became the foundation for a critical plan of study and final paper. My immersion in a community based research approach, that included storytelling and orality, made me able to connect my scholarship to real people. Seeing how community based storytelling could be intertwined with an academic methodology to develop concrete recommendations and outcomes for people in their communities was a real transformative moment for me. Working alongside faculty members like Sarah Flicker, Honor Ford-Smith as well as through the guidance of incredible peers, I mastered how to strategically navigate the institution while producing something valuable for the Somali community in Canada.

Hawa presenting at a Somali Youth Conference, Toronto 2016/2017
Hawa presenting at a Somali Youth Conference, Toronto 2016/2017

Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?

As I dove into my research on Somali-Canadians, it was quickly apparent that when looking at all the popular culture references and the media – there were few positive stories about Somali Canadians. But through my work and research I was hearing positive stories all the time – like when I was completing my Independent Study with the Somali Women, or when I connected with young people, there were all these incredible stories that never came to light. 

The stories in popular media always had the same narrative time and time again, about people who left the war and people who are violent. Those narratives hadn't changed for 25-30 years and have been consistent since the moment Somalis had come to the country as refugees. I knew something had to be done and so, with the help of a colleague, we launched Project Toosoo, a media arts leadership program for Somali youth between the ages of 18 and 25. It's purpose was to work with youth to offer counter narratives to the media about their experiences. With a small seed grant from Laidlaw Foundation, we ran an eight month project.  

It was Project Toosoo that helped me complete my masters. If I hadn't been working on that project, at the same time. I wouldn't have understood the importance of the work that I was doing and I would have lived in the theory of my research, rather than in its application. Each day, I was taking portions of my literature review and using it to build a workshop for Somali youth. I wish that I could replicate that experience for other people to make their academic work more practical.

I don't know if we can take full credit, but after the success of Project Toosoo, media sources began adding more Somali people to their roster of experts. Months and years later, when I hear a story and there's a Somali person on the radio and I think to myself ‘Wow, we didn't have to fight to get that story out they were just called!’ With Project Toosoo, we identified a problem and we came up with a solution that had a lasting impact.

What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?

Hawa presenting at Memories for Mogadishu, Ottawa May 2020
Hawa presenting at Memories for Mogadishu, Ottawa May 2020

I'm politically oriented, and not just because I woke up one day and decided to be. My family has always been deeply involved and interested in the political world. I've always been aware as a Black woman that policy could be influenced by good organizing. Things like social media, events, petitions, calls, and using access points can influence and bring awareness to issues that are required for change. I have always been involved in organizing towards change especially if there is an issue that impacts people's ability to live their fullest lives. 

During the MES program my colleague Tina Garnett and I sat on the Equity Committee. As part of our roles in 2014-2016, we worked to organize and mobilize students around key events like “Where are all the Black faculty” or “Solidarity between Black lives and Indigenous dispossession”. Few people were interested in having those kinds of nuanced conversations at the time, and here we were pulling together Black professors to talk about where all the rest of the Black faculty were like. An issue that had been raised time and time again by Black professors in MES but also across York University. 

I've always believed that our work is relational and if someone tells us there is a problem all of us need to sit and talk it through to make the changes necessary. It's more than a passion, it's an ethos that guides much of the work I do when I have a spare moment. How do we mobilize and organize around things that matter to us and do it in a way that brings people together? How can we create sustainable change in this way?

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve in the next 1-5 years?

I believe I'm going to be the next Member of Parliament in my riding – hopefully within the next one to three years. I want to take the work I’ve done and scale it. While I’ve learned the on-the-ground local and regional work, I’m evaluating how to make an impact provincially, nationally, internationally. My hope is to tap into what's happening around us and start building widespread momentum and shifts that will result in positive change for everyone.

Szimbah Hanley

Szimbah Hanley

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Szimbah Hanley

Education Director/CEO,Tree of Life Education Consultants

Masters in Environmental Studies 2012

“I would encourage our students to study the great contributions that Black people have made to the advancement of human civilization. Our ancestors who have preceded us have set a high example. We must take up where they left off and emulate them.”

Szimbah Hanley

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

I chose to pursue a post graduate degree in Environmental Studies and Education. I was inspired by the teachings of His Imperial Majesty Haile' Selassie who said: "Education is a means of sharpening the mind of man both spiritually and intellectually. It is a two edged sword that can be used either for the progress of mankind or for its destruction. Our constant desire and endeavor is to develop our education for the benefit of mankind."

What advice do you have for current and/or future Black students in the program or at York University?

I would encourage our students to study the great contributions that Black people have made to the advancement of human civilization. Our ancestors who have preceded us have set a high example. We must take up where they left off and emulate them. I would conclude by encouraging our students to put forth every effort in the pursuit of excellence in every aspect, spiritually intellectually scientifically and economically. It was Marcus Garvey who said; "God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always the great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and eternity our measurement."

Describe a project you are working on that you feel contributes to positive change.

Currently, I am the Director of Education for Tree of Life Education Consultants. We specialize in providing Professional Development Training to TDSB teachers in the fields of Character Education as well as Restorative Justice & Practices. We are licensed with both the Virtues Project International,(www.virtuesproject.com) and the International Institute of Restorative Practices, (www.iirp.org) as certified “Trainer of Trainers.” We facilitate Certified Professional Development Workshops, providing resources and strategies for educators to include in their lesson plans on Character Education, with the TDSB and other school boards in the Province of Ontario.

As a way of thinking and being, the Restorative Practice Framework provides a construct for acting restoratively in a ‘community’. With application in a variety of settings such as schools, youth detention facilities, community programs, workplaces, businesses, faith groups and families, the aim of the framework is to focus on strengthening relationships, restoring trust and repairing harm as a way of building community. This framework allows us to handle conflict with tact and diplomacy.

Tina Garnett

Tina Garnett

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Tina Garnett

President & Principal Consultant, Providence International EDI Consulting

Master in Environmental Studies 2016

"Speak your truth even if your voice shakes, for silence is to be complicit to your own erasure."

Tina Garnett

About Tina

Tina Garnett is 6th generation Canadian, the descendent of an escape slave John Henry who arrived at the Great Lakes Black Settlement in 1831. Tina has been developing human rights based equity and inclusion policies and services with marginalized communities for over two decades.  She is the current Human Rights & Inclusion Specialist with Hamilton Health Sciences’ Human Resources Department. Her work has been cutting edge work, such as her work in Northern British Columbia, where she co-founded an Indigenous youth organization that supported pregnant Indigenous youth in keeping their newborns; she was the person hired after the investigation at Children’s Aid Society of Toronto regarding the acute over-representation of Black children & youth in care – her role at CAST included a secondment as a research consultant with CUPE Ontario on their anti-racism and community hate resource kit. Some of her other roles includes various equity focused management roles in post-secondary institutions, and sexual assault centres.

In 2014 Tina returned to school to complete a Master’s degree at York University, which focused on creating safer and inclusive trauma services for Indigenous and Black women. Tina is committed to walking the talk, thus she volunteers on community governing boards, such as, PEACH, NDP Women’s Committee, and currently is a governing board member on MOYO and Hamilton Civic Centre for Inclusion.

Tina is the sole proprietor of Providence International EDI Consult https://picequity.com, her clients included government, academic institutions and community agencies, such as, Canadian Pediatric Society, GURU Production Studios, Dalhousie University, Lakeshore Arts Collective, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, Fred Victor Safe Injection Sites and Sistering Women’s Shelter. She has facilitated human rights based classes at Seneca, Sheridan College, Humber College and University of Toronto and is currently supporting the first anti-racism policy and programs in a medical institution.

Most recently, Tina’s work resulted in being recognized twice in 2020 as the 2020 Woman Who Rocks Community Activism Award and 2020 John C. Holland Black Business Achievement Award. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, reading, creating and spending quality time with her sons and 2 grandchildren.

Roxana Salehi

Roxana Salehi

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Roxana Salehi

Senior Research Associate, Centre for Global Child Health at SickKids Hospital AND Principal Consultant, Vitus Consulting

PhD in Environmental Studies 2011

“My supervisor’s support enabled me to receive a CIHR grant and work on an amazing community based project”

Roxana Salehi

About Roxana

Dr. Roxana Salehi is passionate about helping organizations use research and evaluation evidence to make better decisions. As a global health research scientist, she and her team at Centre for Global Child Health at Hospital for Sick Children aim to train 1500 nurses and health workers in Ghana by 2020, all part of an ambitious national scale up of a nursing education program.

Roxana founded her own consulting company in 2014, Vitus Consulting, (www.vitus.ca) and works with a range of local agencies on issues related to evaluation capacity building and program evaluation. Roxana has a PhD in Community Health from York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and certificates in statistical modeling form Inter-university Consortium in Social and Political Research at University of Michigan. She is a Canadian Evaluation Society Credentialed Evaluator.

Awards

  • CIHR Post Doctoral Award
  • CIHR Doctoral Award
  • Academic Distinction Award (Brock University)

Publications

  • 2015-2020 Co-investigator, Monitoring and Evaluation of Paediatric Nursing Education Partnership (PNEP) - Centre for Global Child Health, Hospital for Sick Children, Global Affairs Canada funded project.
  • 2017- How do you measure sustainability of global health programs? Presented at American Evaluation Association Conference, 2017, Washington DC: From Learning to Action
  • 2015 Cardiovascular risk factors and 30-year cardiovascular risk in homeless adults with mental illness BMC Public Health 2015, 15:165 doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1472-4

Dewayne Chambers

Dewayne Chambers

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Dewayne Chambers

Project coordinator at Halton Region

Bachelor in Environmental Studies 2018

The path to life is like entropy, order and disorder. The order is the instinctive pathway in life you choose, and the disorder is the variety of directions you take to achieve your goal.

Dewayne Chambers

About Dewayne

How would you describe your years at FES, and did the program prepare you for your career? How?

The years I studied in FES were fundamental to my knowledge and awareness of sustainability development theories and the process to make these policies practical while striving for a utilitarian society.

What’s your favorite/most memorable memory of your time at York University?

My most memorable time FES at was executing Landscape ecology programs that simulated the urban and farming activities on the natural landscape. The simulation provides the user the limit of urban and agricultural activities. This research was done as part of an ongoing exercise in a course with Prof. Nyssa Van Vierssen Trip. The Environmental Studies program strives to make students think critically and creatively to achieve synergies to promote a Garden City, a concept occurred in ENVS2200- Foundations of Urban and Regional Environments with Prof. Roger Keil.

Describe your post-graduation journey including experiences such as employment, volunteer work, community engagement projects.

My post-graduation journey has transformed my worldview that sees hope for a sustainable world where current and transformative technologies can create a more livable world. This includes data driven research to allow policymakers to make more analytical decisions while encouraging automation of repetitive tasks.

What is your current job title, or project you are working on, and how would you describe the work you do in a typical day?

My current job title is Project Coordinator at  Halton Region. As the Project Coordinator, I am a member of the engineering and construction team reporting directly to the Supervisor of Technical Services. In my role, I am responsible for providing technical support to facilitate the delivery of municipal infrastructure projects. The core responsibility of the position is preparing quantity detail sheets, project estimates, construction cost index and contract bid analysis.

If you could leave current students with a piece of advice, what would it be?

The path to life is like entropy, order and disorder. The order is the instinctive pathway in life you choose, and the disorder is the variety of directions you take to achieve your goal.

Tristan Costa

Tristan Costa

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Tristan Costa

Planner I, City of Brampton

Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies 2014 & Master in Environmental Studies 2017

"The program taught me the importance of understanding a variety of disciplines within the planning stream to build better cities, communities and neighborhoods."

Tristan Costa

About Tristan

How would you describe your years at FES, and did the program prepare you for your career? How?

As a current Planner, the MES/FES Program expanded the breadth of my knowledge in the field of planning. The program taught me the importance of understanding a variety of disciplines within the planning stream to build better cities, communities and neighborhoods.

What’s your favorite/most memorable memory of your time at York University?

Defending my Thesis! It is always fulfilling and rewarding to defend (and be commended) for the work which you dedicate much time and effort to. My focus was on large-scale development projects and mega-events, which was directly aligned with my interest in discovering the cost-benefit analysis of large scale sporting spectacles. I was also blessed to have the support of several professors, who were also great mentors (Teresa Abbruzzese and Liette Gilbert).

Describe your post-graduation journey including experiences such as employment, volunteer work, community engagement projects.

While I was blessed to receive a job offer in my field prior to the completion of my MES degree, there were many roadblocks along the way. Many employers turned me down for my lack of professional work experience, or inability to prove that I have completed my degree. Volunteer experience was pivotal in this scenario, as this experience enabled me to gain the confidence to deliver in an interview setting. These experiences included working as a Heritage Assistant with the Township of King and a Community Outreach Assistant with Brooki Pooni Associates. Both experiences allowed me to engage with planners and gain the hands-on experience I needed to grow as an individual and an urban professional. Experience in the field of planning, along with an interest in community engagement, led me to the current position I am in now.

What is your current job title, or project you are working on, and how would you describe the work you do in a typical day?

I am currently a planner at City of Brampton, working with a team dedicated to community and resiliency. Our main objective is to deliver the 2040 Vision: a bold, new vision for what Brampton could and should be in 2040 and beyond. What makes this Vision special, is that it was created for the people, by the people – over 20,000 Bramptonians have been engaged to date and shared how they would like to see their city grow.

If you could leave current students with a piece of advice, what would it be?

Apply, apply, apply! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. A good, professional interview goes a long way, whether you have the experience or not. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks, in the professional and education setting.