My four year-old brother looked through the glass as Marilyn said, look at your new baby sister. He looked at her and smiled, I know, she is the only Black baby in there. My first memory is of difference.
Stories have always played a critical role in my life, my career and in my personal desire to be a part of the radical re-shifting and mobilization of our world. A few years ago I was struck with the realization that I could not continue to do meaningful work without also spending additional time developing the emotional and psychological skills I needed to be an effective change agent. That was about the same time the Inner Activist came to my attention.
Somalia has a rich tradition of oral poetry, entire histories are passed from elder to child in the form of rhythmic storytelling. Hooyo (my mother) told me and my five other siblings stories as often as we were fed, with every school story countered by her rolodex of Somali folk tales. This was one of her few connections to a land she struggled to never forget, even while living in Canada. Growing up in a primarily white community I learned quickly that stories only highlighted my difference, so I stopped speaking them and began to keep them secret.
As a racialized young woman, I then began to actively engage in programs and projects that allowed me to use my own stories as a launching point to develop innovative mechanisms for program development. I focused on working with organizations, communities and government systems to identify “what worked, what didn’t work,” to highlight existing community resources and knowledge. Stories were helping me ask people the right questions so we could spend more time connecting authentically then we did giving one another labels and parameters.
My work then became a means of examining and exploring that very difference as a first generation refugee raised as a second generation child, displaced and living with ancestral trauma while holding the legacy of war. I learned to speak through art. My family history of orality gave me a cultural framework to centre my own stories especially when I felt different or that I didn’t belong. I learned to understand stories as subjective truth making, and realized early that exploring counter stories made it possible for me to survive.
Soon after I came across the programs offered by the Inner Activist. Over the last few years I have participated in all three Inner Activist workshops, Building Personal Mastery, Building Strong & Respectful Relationships and Conscious Use of Power. From discovering my learning edge to exploring and identifying an innate sense of power, I pulled out nuggets of information that would impact the caliber and quality of my work for years to come. I can say without a doubt that the programs, faculty and participants that I have met through this process have reframed many of the stories I have held central to my sense of self.
Today I have a renewed sense of personal commitment to create a more equitable and sustainable world without ever feeling the need to sacrifice a sense of belonging. As Audre Lorde eloquently put it “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I’m thrilled to be taking on the role of Outreach and Enrolment Coordinator at Inner Activist, and looking forward to continuing in the celebration of our differences.
Let’s talk about our stories, and let’s talk about where you might fit in the work Inner Activist is committed to putting out into the world.
You can send Hawa an email at hawa (at) inneractivist (dot) com