One month ago today, on September 24, 2018, I was honoured with an Alumni Horizon Award from the University of Alberta. The prestigious award was a surprise as I was nominated by the Dean of Arts and is a once-in-a-lifetime award meant to provide recognition for outstanding community work and positive contributions to society.

While I am on a research and writing sabbatical in Morocco, I requested that my family, friends and colleagues still attend the ceremony as my mother would be accepting the award on my behalf – and they did. Some of my closest family members, friends and people I am blessed to work with spent the day just thinking about me and loving me. For someone with a history of mental illness and negative self-talk, it is unbelievable to me that folks would do that while I was 10,000km away – some even taking the day off work!  It was an incredible day of jubilant celebration and support from people of all walks of life who I am blessed to know. And that could be felt all the way in a little village north of Marrakech where I am currently staying.

I have been humbled by the award and want to reflect on it a bit. I genuinely feel that I share it with every amazing person I have been blessed to do community work with: from my committee with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council to the advisory crew with the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life, from the amazing fundraising team with the Young Indigenous Circle of Leadership Cree Women’s Camp to every interfaith leader and community organizer I have been blessed to meet. My colleagues in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, along with fellow researchers at the Tessellate Institute and the Institute for Religious and Socio-Political Studies all share this honour with me.

I know that these awards are not always what they seem and I was (and remain) hesitant about accepting it from an institution I have benefited from but am ultimately concerned about in terms of its exploitation of folks with excessive tuition rates and underpaid intellectual labour, and especially for its often tokenistic/abusive treatment of Indigenous and Black folks I know directly. I always hesitate when a large neoliberal institution values what I am doing because it might mean that I am fitting a convenient narrative about brokering social change in ways that are merely superficial and don’t get at the deep structural violence implicit in the system itself. I am terrified of the implications of that and of being complicit in the systems that benefit me above others for no other reason than the social positionings I was born into. I am mindful of my privilege as a white convert to Islam in being recognized and amplified when so many of my merited siblings and kin of colour are not.

Ultimately, this award has never been about me. It is about the work and about the people I am privileged to share dignified spaces with as a result of that work. I can’t think of many people I have met and worked with who haven’t influenced me or taught me wisdoms beyond even what they imagine they do. This is our award and I pray that it serves to remind other people about the types of work we can do when we come together. Above all, I wish that it will inspire other people to build more spaces of social change and justice – ones that are unapologetically critical in all the right ways. And for the person who feels like they want to suck back the very last dregs of despair before seeking oblivion, it is my desire that this kind of recognition makes its way to you and serves as a source of hope – as those I have served are a continuous source of hope for me.

Much love,

Nakita

Read Nakita’s award feature in New Trail Alumni Magazine or an article profiling her work from the Faculty of Arts.

Since our brand relaunch in Spring 2018, we have been busy beyond belief with a variety of exciting and interesting jobs in the world of digital marketing, writing and editing. Sometimes it is a good thing to take a step back and look at everything you have accomplished, especially in quantifiable terms so without further ado, here is a little list of (most) of the new work we have been up to:

  • Built and launched a freelance translator’s website, social media and blog
  • Built and launched (this week!) a highly complex website for a non-profit association that includes a dynamic searchable directory of site members and global content restriction based on a member’s subscription plan
  • Built and launched a new website for a different non-profit association that included brand development and a membership function
  • Wrote 80 articles for a new client in the Caribbean to begin populating their 2 blogs with content and have established an ongoing relationship to continue to fill their content in using inbound marketing techniques
  • Edited a 235-page master’s thesis on the Syrian civil war
  • Mailed 823 print marketing material packages for a non-profit association and sent to relevant
  • Edited 7 scholarly articles written by a Professor Emeritus in their area of historical research
  • Wrote 6 editions of a religio-cultural newsletter for print and web publication
  • Ghost-wrote two articles for a client
  • Published one major research study with The Tessellate Institute and IRGS
  • Wrote 8 new articles for The Drawing Board blog (with 4 more set to be up before November!)
  • Wrote 12,000+ words for Nakita’s non-fiction memoir project and patron blogs
  • Participated in 7 media interviews
  • Delivered 4 keynote addresses
  • Delivered 5 public anti-racism talks
  • Edited a memoir writing pitch for a global influencer
  • Took part in one 5-week intensive non-fiction writing course for Professional Development
  • Received one major community recognition award
  • Signed up for NaNoWriMo 2018 – add Nakita (nvalerio) if you are doing it too!

It has been an exceptionally busy time and we couldn’t be happier than to support writers, businesses and academics in everything they endeavor to do while serving our communities and making our own art too!

Bring on the rest of 2018 and in to 2019!

Much love,

Nakita

What does radical self-love look like?

Sometimes it looks like moving your family across the world so you can finally write a memoir.

For people living with mental illnesses, the emphasis on self-love and some of its assumed performances can be alienating. For people who have C-PTSD or have grown up in dysfunctional homes of continuously traumatizing incidents, the term self-love can ring hollow. As one friend recently said, it simply doesn’t penetrate.

And that’s ok.

In the times when we are stuck in our own programming, even when we have the dual awareness to recognize we are stuck but we can’t do much about it, it is important to realize that putting one foot in front of the other, or even just longing to, is self-love.

It is not actively destructing.

It is still you in there.

For me, a big part of practicing self-love has been doing things for myself, even when I don’t feel the love: booking therapy appointments in advance (even when my brain is telling me it’s hopeless so why bother), booking home support like cleaning services (even when my brain is telling me I am worthless because I need help to do basic things), or any other steps (small and large) I might take towards helping myself continue to survive.

It is a common thing among folks living with mental illness that we can only feel in memory, never in the present moment. Our nervous systems have been trained expertly to shut down in the here and now as a protective mechanism.

And that’s ok.

That is your body loving yourself.

A big part of healing is in rolling one’s consciousness forward to now. In building one’s own safe spaces and then allowing one’s self to feel in those spaces. Even if little by little.

Radical self-love looks like such commitments to survival, even when your brain tells you that you do not want to survive. Radical self-love even looks like simply yearning to take these steps, even when your brain tells you that you cannot go on.

This is an act of radical self-love.

I am set to begin a sabbatical or leave of absence from my advocacy work with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) on August 1st.   The community work I have set in motion will graciously be continued by my committee of dedicated directors and volunteers. This leave will entail me and my family moving to Morocco for six months to visit family and make space for the research and writing of a creative non-fiction memoir

About the project:

Why do you want to enter? Simon Levy asked me outside the entrance of the Casablanca Jewish Museum he founded and directed as of 1997. An armed Moroccan military officer stood close by, listening to our conversation. When I replied that I wanted to see the Moroccan Jewish artifacts inside, he seemed surprised, and gestured to the hijab covering my head. He said, it is not often that we have your people visiting the museum, before waving for me to follow him inside.

Five years later, I was sitting in Levy’s old office with the new museum director, Zhor Rehihil, who took over primary curatorship after Levy’s death. We were talking about my research project and dropping names of historians doing work on the departure of Jews from Morocco between 1948 and 1968. I was explaining my interest in the silences of its memory, particularly the anxieties brought on by the Holocaust and a host of other issues largely absent from both Jewish and Muslim memories.

The Holocaust had nothing to do with Morocco, she protested. I let her finish without agreeing or disagreeing, wrapping up our conversation with a promise to keep in touch and update her when my work was completed. As she was walking me out, she looked at my hijab and said, you know, that headscarf will make your research very difficult. Trust, in this field, is a complicated thing.

It was only in wading through the multivocal, emotionally-charged and often painful memories of the departure that I would come to recognize the truth of her observation and how my own work might come to be perceived because of my identities. I also came to notice patterns of belonging and rootlessness in my own story as a convert to Islam, living in a foreign country, descendant from immigrants and married to a man who also gave up his place of origin as a Mediterranean migrant.

The pursuit of homelands, both literally and figuratively, shape my experiences – both a physical and an internal migration echoed in the movement of the people I have studied and how the memory of their journeys is expressed.

What does it mean to search for home as a Muslim convert, wading through established communities? What does it mean to exist as a racialized Muslim woman in Canada, in an era of rising Islamophobia? What does it mean to immigrate to another land in pursuit of the familiar? For myself, my ancestors, my spouse?

Deeper than this, what does it mean to look for home as a wandering soul? I can hear the revolutionary chants of the Arab Spring protesters on the television my first time in Morocco: Jannah, jannah, jannah, Jannah al-wataniya. Paradise, paradise, paraside, Paradise the homeland. 

The project that I am working on is a creative non-fiction memoir, a true novel of sorts, that will braid together these stories of migration and homeland, combining my academic research with stories from my life and those close to me. I am unsure yet if the writing I am making space for will become a graphic novel script that I will commission an illustrator for, or it will remain a work of prose.

I am asking for support while I take some time off from my advocacy work to travel back to Morocco for visual research and to conduct additional interviews for the writing of this work. As I said, my sabbatical begins August 1st and will continue for 6 months. I hope to return to Canada with a complete first draft and have set up a mentorship relationship with a Professor of literature and writing to ensure I achieve this goal.

All I have to offer is my participation. All I am able to do is take each voice in the turbulence of remembering and listen to them equally. I cannot do this without your support.

To learn more about this act of radical self-love and this project, to support it and to access exclusive benefits that I am providing for my supporters, please visit my Patreon account: https://www.patreon.com/homeland/


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

The Drawing Board is back! Well, to be honest, we never really left but we did take a year-long break from blogging, vlogging and social media for many good reasons.

What have we been up to?

We have been busy working! Throughout the year,  we have continued to serve clients, letting some old friends go and making some new ones! We have also continued to serve our communities through our advocacy and educational work.

We have been busy convocating! The owner and editor-in-chief of The Drawing Board, Nakita Valerio, finished her Masters degree in history at the University of Alberta last year so believe it or not, we were busy thesising, defending and graduating!

We have been busy researching! In addition to regular work for The Drawing Board, Nakita also undertook a research fellowship on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Canada with the Tessellate Institute! Keep your eyes peeled for the resulting publications which should be out any day now!

We have been busy learning the Truth! While we have been off, two of our staff writers took the time to read all six volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports. We encourage everyone to do the same.

We have been busy birthing! In addition to keeping new clients happy and getting her parchment, Nakita also went through an incredible (and difficult) 9 months of pregnancy which ended in a spectacular birth. We welcome Baby Sujood to The Drawing Board family!

We have been busy recruiting! In addition to our fabulous team members and contributors of old, Elisabeth and Erin, we have also added another fabulous femme to The Drawing Board team, just in time for our brand relaunch! We will give Olga a proper welcome shortly!

We have been busy learning how to center accessibility! We have spent some time learning about how to make our vlogs more accessible with simple tools like transcriptions and Closed Captioning. We hope to apply what we have learned to everything we are doing!

We have been preparing to relaunch! We have been hard at work reconfiguring our website to better reflect the work that we do for you!


The Drawing Board is delighted to relaunch our website and our social media after much anticipation!

The new site clearly outlines the philosophy behind our company and the two streams of services we now offer: corporate/non-profit and academics/writers. Our main goal with our redevelopment was to offer as sleek and as simple a design as possible to reflect the professionalism of our company, center accessibility and to let our services speak for themselves in the manner we know best: through good, clean writing.

In addition to rebuilding the design and layout of our website, we are also committed to reinvigorating our blog, Youtube channel, Facebook feed and have finally joined the Instagram revolution. Be sure to follow us on all platforms and subscribe to our Youtube to keep up with us!