I felt incredibly honored to have even been asked, and extremely grateful for the opportunity to talk about some of the social issues raised in my book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.
My favourite part was the question and answer period that followed the lecture. In addition to asking me a lot of really great questions (some of which I’m continuing to answer in my head even now) there was also a lot of sharing from the audience. One woman stood up and through trembling lips shared what obviously continues to be a really humiliating story for her.
“I’ve never said this publically before,” she said, choking back tears, then went on to describe a situation where, years earlier, she had been treated with such a lack of respect by the welfare office, it still haunts her today.
Another young woman talked about how she’s the first in her family to break free of poverty, and admitted to often feeling guilty for having escaped the cycle when so many of her family remain behind, still trapped.
I could have listened to their stories all night.
The next morning I spoke to a class of social work students at Algoma- students who seem genuinely committed to making a difference in the world. But I’m not surprised. Algoma’s Honours Bachelor of Social Work (HBSW) Program is committed to promoting social justice, community healing, and social change based on humanitarianism, egalitarianism, and anti-oppressive practice. The program emphasizes structural, Anishinaabe/Indigenous and feminist approaches to social work.
In the end, it was an incredible visit to an amazing school. Approximately 60% of the students at Algoma are non-traditional and although Algoma is the smallest university in Ontario, as the school states on its website: “Small University. Big Education.” Algoma’s size is also its strength as the school is the only university in Ontario that never has more than 65 students in a class.
Speaking before a classroom of future social workers was such an exciting opportunity. My book shares the journey of how a small group of committed social work and med school students help transform my mother and five sisters’ lives, and here I was standing before a class of social work students. It truly felt like a full-circle moment.