When ShahaddahJack invites you to snap your fingers, you snap.
When Shahaddah Jack invites you to stomp your feet, you stomp.
When Shahaddah Jack invites you to write poetry, you write.
When my client at BGC invited me to their 2023 Partner Summit, I had no idea I would meet Shahaddah Jack. Let alone the impact she would have on me, which was only rivalled by the effect created by her mother, Laurette Jack.
Let’s start with Shahaddah.
She is BGC Canada’s 2022 National Youth of the Year. She is an aspiring journalist who wants to be in front of the camera, amplifying the voices of others. She is a poet. A bilingual one at that. Plus, she is an author. Her energy, enthusiasm, and beliefs are so powerful. I love the fact that she preaches that your pain is your strength. Your pain is your strength. Shahaddah’s first book- Underrated Royalty, now on its way to my bookshelf, is described on Amazon as follows.
For decades, we’ve been living in a pandemic of black voices being silenced and filtered. In the mainstream media, there is a trend of black excellence and beauty being told through whispers in the background of stories monopolizing black trauma. Our existence as a community is a statement alone that transcends an endless timeline of racial injustices. Our melanated magnificence that shines in these series of photos and poems is a representation of the legacy that we as a community will leave behind—-Our pain is our power and our beauty is our story.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the inspiration for Shahaddah were the underrated royalty who raised her, her mother, Lorette. Lorette Jack is the Club Leader for BGC Eastview, the de facto mayor of the neighbourhood, and a frontline warrior. So often, when people, myself included, volunteer for boards or talk about making change, we do so from a place of economic and geographic privilege. My bubble of Little Italy, Rosedale for work, and Lawrence Park for squash are far from the reality of Toronto at Blake Street.
But Blake Street, and all the Blake Streets, are where you will find the true changemakers in this city. Lorette ensures the kids in her club are fed, considered, and safe. She manages parole officers, parents, and peers with equal courage and aplomb. There is no fear in her; if there is, she hides it so well. We should all strive for the courage of Laurette.
In the middle of the day, several other youths joined Shahaddah for a panel discussion. There were many themes, but the ones that rang the loudest were their concerns about mental health for the youth of Toronto. These young Changemakers are leaders in their schools and see the impacts of today’s society on the next generations. I asked them in the Q&A what one request they would have for a Toronto Mayoral candidate. It was to tackle youth mental health. I hope anyone reading this pauses and reflects when they vote for their elected officials at any level and challenges them to commit to allocating the resources we need to tackle this issue.
Shahhadah shared several poems with us; they were all snap, stomp, and standing ovation worthy.
She also asked all summit attendees to take a moment and write a poem representing our current mindset. To reflect on why we were here and how we got here. What happened when we were young?
I started delivering papers in my hometown when I was eight or nine. I always wondered on those cold nights what the people inside their warm homes were thinking of when they saw me trudge up their driveway.
I am a fan when someone can impact me when speaking. I am a superfan when an eighteen-year-old can. So in her honour, I will share the twelve sentences; I don’t know if you can call it a poem I wrote at Shahaddahs’ urging.
The Paper Boy
I am the paper boy.
I am the boy who brings your paper.
I am the boy who brings the news.
The news you read inside your home.
The news you read happening outside your doors.
The news you read is left between them.
I am the paper boy who stands outside.
I am the paper boy who cannot hide.
I am the paper boy you won't bring inside.
The news you read is about my world.
The news you read is not your problem.
The news you read is heading next door.
- Mark Harrison