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 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.
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?
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.