Selam Debs on Creating Inclusive Spaces and Building a Strong Voice as an Ethiopian-Canadian Womyn. PART ONE.
STORIES OF RESILIENCE
EPISODE 2: PART ONE
A force of nature. A fierce social justice advocate. A mother. A Canadian. A black womyn. Owner & founder of JUICI YOGA studio in Waterloo, Ontario.
“The experience of being an Ethiopian-Canadian is a unique one. I spent most of my life, being shameful of my life experiences. I always felt like I had to hide my past. To carry some form of armour to shield my truth from the world.”
I call this story, the story of HER. The story of a young girl. Both of my parents grew up in Ethiopia and fled to Sudan. They moved to Jordan and got refugee status to come to Canada.
I grew up with my mother in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Toronto. We lived first in Regent Park, and then in Rexdale. The thing these neighbourhoods offered was culture. I was surrounded by Caribbean and African people, food, music, and community. But, I was also surrounded by violence.
My mum started to realize that I could be led down the wrong path, and eventually left Toronto, and settled in Waterloo. We lived in a caged community of experiences that much of the population is immune to. The incidence of sexual violence, rape, and both physical and emotional assaults, happening to young girls from immigrant families, often goes unrecognized to the broader society.
I didn’t experience racism in Scarborough. I grew up around people who looked like me. I started to experience racism in Ottawa, where my dad lived, and where I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me.
I’ve been kicked off buses, been told that being black is a handicap. I’ve been told that my skin is dirty, have been called the “N-word” and have been told that all black people are on welfare. This was a consistent experience in Kitchener-Waterloo.
What does it do, to someone in the world, being exposed to such a consistent level of racial injustice and trauma? How does this change the way that you navigate the world, and how you raise a black son?
It is emotional. It can be paralyzing. The other side of things is that I’ve learned to be resilient. I can speak multiple languages. I can connect deeply with people of diverse backgrounds, and can also understand conversation with people in the community who have very little awareness.
Raising a black son is a different story. I remember deeply, his early questions, wondering why he didn’t look like other people. Why his hair looks the way it does. Why his name doesn’t sound the same.
Hearing his questions literally sparked my mission to educate him on his worth, and on his knowledge of the world. I also need to teach him to be mindful around people of authority, to protect his own safety.
How Do We Become More WOKE and Aware in the World?
“We become aware of the suffering of other people. We become acutely aware of our own biases. If you’ve been asleep to social injustice, and asleep to the issues that have been affecting the human beings in your community, then, its time wake up.”
Find Selam Debs at her yoga studio in Waterloo, Ontario:
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO:
I love the continuation of this conversation — We got deep into:
Why we need to pay tribute to the vibrant cultural, and powerful history of Canadians with African and Caribbean heritage — versus calling everyone “African-Americans”.
How we create bonds with each other, by learning about the uniqueness of our individual cultures. The special characteristics of Jamaican culture vs Guyanese culture vs Ethiopian culture, and so on, is such an important difference to understand.
How taking time to LEARN about our uniqueness is one of the keys to accepting and appreciating the both the gifts and the challenges that we bring to our Canadian landscape.
How our ability to live in our truth, to say the things that are not easy to say, how sitting with discomfort, and standing up for our honest beliefs in all of our relationships, bring us to a place of unapologetic emotional freedom.
We talk about the limiting beliefs that grow out of traumatic experiences, and how to begin unravelling the barriers and obstacles that we’ve placed on our life.
So much brilliance.