In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Thank you so much for having me today. And thank you everyone for being here. I would like to reiterate that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory and that these are the traditional lands of Indigenous people who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. They are still here and it is on you to insure that that is forever the case.

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I also want to acknowledge that I am a white, cis woman, the child of Italian immigrants to this land, and the mother of a beautiful, Arab girl, a convert to Islam and all those things are combined, I am afforded certain privileges and I pray that I am using these to the advantage of every person, people of every gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability and anything else we use to identify ourselves.

I came here today to inform you that the day you were born was not the day you came out of your mother’s womb. The day you were born was the first time you witnessed injustice and you decided to take a stand. Deep down inside you, alarms bells started ringing and a call resounded through the center of your being. A call to take action, a call to stand up and use your voice to say, “No, hatred will not live here, Oppression will not be tolerated, injustice will not be served today.”

The day you heard that call may have been November 8th, when the one who shall remain unnamed was legitimized in his hatred and misogyny, and propelled to the highest institution of the most powerful nation in the world. And we will oppose him. And all echoes of him at home.

That day might have been before. It might have been after. The day you hear that call might be today, right now.

For it is a call I am issuing. This is not a call to silent prayer but a call to submission of the ego in the service of others, even if those others are a future self in need of your present compassion. It is a call of recognizing that any of us could be oppressor or oppressed and that many of us are both, and we’re standing on a fine line and you are choosing dignity, respect and compassion that every single one of us has earned by virtue of our existence.

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It is a call to make space for one another, to take space when it is not yielded, to recognize that we create the worlds we live in, and that hatred and love take effort of an equal measure. The day you were born was the first time you saw hatred in action and you chose Love.

Fierce love. Love that dismantles and is disobedient. Enraged love. Disappointed love. Grieving Love. Love that refuses to accept anything less than solidarity, anything less than taking care of one another.

Taking care of one another does not only mean fixing dinners and giving shoulders to cry on – though those things are important. No, taking care means a commitment to the idea that, even if I have never met you, I love you and I respect your right to a life of dignity and hope, a life of self-actualized growth and I will fight for you.

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I do not accept that black, brown, Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish people with varying orientations and degrees of ability are made the collateral damage in the bulldozing path of a historical lie spun incessantly about racial and social superiority, while those who spin it hold our planet, our children, our wealth, our future, our collective soul hostage. I do not accept how they divide us. I do not accept that our trauma and violence are painted as intrinsic to who we are, while they cover their colonization in the fog of words, in a war of semantics, in imperial programming. I refuse to normalize their hatred.

The day you were born was the first moment you witnessed power in action and you said no to it. Where you traced its institutions, its circulatory system, feeding life into those who designed it and relegating the rest of us to despondency and despair. You deserve better than a life of despair.

Answering the call is a commitment to replacing despair with kindness, even when kindness means blocking roads and lobbying governments. Especially when it means that.

So I want to ask all of you and please let me hear a beautiful Yes:

Do you hear the call?

Do you hear the call today?

We are not here to feel good about ourselves. We celebrate who we are and we resist in our joy but we are not here to joke around about what is happening south of the border, around the world, in our own backyard, in our families. We are here to make a public declaration to do better and to stop those who won’t.

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The work does not end here, it starts right now.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, put your hand over your heart, look them straight in the eye and face their humanity. Thank them for being here today. Thank them for taking a stand and answering the call of Justice.

Repeat after me:

I am here for you.

I will always be here for you.

I will defend you.

I will use my voice

In the face of your oppression.

I will work for justice.

I hear the call.

And I answer it.

Very good.

Hear this call today, everyone, I am holding you accountable Let it echo every day in every action you take.

It is history calling, wondering what side you will be on.

It is our duty to memory, wondering how selective you will be.

And it is the scales of justice calling, wondering what your balance look like.

All our lives hang in the fold.

Thank you.


Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

Photography: Lindsey Catherine Photos & Media

Video: Radical Citizen Media

Tonight, a new friend came to visit me. She is the wife of a mentor and colleague of mine and I have been meaning to connect with her for awhile. Our visit was simple enough – talking over coffee and a platter of fruit while my daughter chattered away, excited about this new friend in our home. I watched as my daughter fed her grapes and placed a hand on her shoulder – simple, immediate intimacy with someone she had only just met. Our conversation was punctuated with finding my little one in hiding as she shrieked with delight from behind the cupboard.

I had been promising my daughter this visit all day, mentioning that this friend was coming over and that we would all go to the nearby park together, which we eventually did. While my kid made instant friends with another girl  on the slides, we talked about our experiences living in different places around the world – Morocco, Pakistan, the United States and Canada.

“What was it like living in America?” I asked. We both knew what this question meant without further elaboration. It meant, what was it like living as a veiled Muslim in America? It meant, had you experienced discrimination or violence there? It meant, did you live in fear there?

She told me about some of her experiences, narrowing in on the fact that Americans tell it like it is – for better or for worse – and that this is something she found surprisingly refreshing. People sometimes shouted out that they liked her clothes. Or they would smile at her out of nowhere.

“I think people have forgotten how to love one another,” she said. “Especially the Ummah” she added, referring to the global Muslim community.

“People don’t even compliment each other any more,” she added. “Something as simple as ‘you have beautiful eyes’,” she stated, nodding towards mine.

I hadn’t received a compliment in a very long time and didn’t even know how to react, but my body did. I had a huge smile plastered on my face and my heart lifted up for a minute. She was right. A compliment is something so simple and is, in itself a form of love, of uplifting one another just for its own sake.

How long had it been since I complimented someone?

I recalled a cartoon that had been making its way on social media – an image of a man and his son. He turns to another man wearing a hat and says “Nice hat!” When the hat-wearer smiles, the man turns to his son and says: “See? Look at his face change: Everyone can have magic powers!”

And it’s true. Heartfelt words are magical and they are powerful. They can disarm hostility and relax a hardened heart. They come unexpectedly and so they take us off-guard. We feel vulnerable because we are so used to being in defensive mode. We laugh it off as a reflex.

After she left, I decided to try out her simple strategy for social change and I started on my mother. It helped that she arrived within a few moments and she looked absolutely beautiful. I took the moment to compliment her on her shiny new eyeliner, noting that, in fact, her whole outfit was put-together and nice. She looked lovely.

“Ok….” She didn’t know what to say as a smile slowly crept onto her face.

“You look beautiful, Nanna,” my little one echoed, smiling as well.

The car filled with love as we drove away together.

One thing I have learned time and time again is that the most meaningful and lasting social change comes from the simplest of continuous interactions and compliments are yet another tool in our arsenal of tools aimed at compassion and acceptance.

I challenge everyone reading this to #complimentsomeone in our #drawingboardchallenge. Spend the next month making the conscious effort to compliment at least one person per day, whether or not you know them. That person might be you some days because, let’s face it, a whole lot of us are going a very long time without having anything nice to say about ourselves.

In a world that is becoming increasingly uncertain and where meaningful and purposeful interaction is diminishing, break down your fears and connect with others: no matter how far someone might feel to you, they are usually only a smile away.

At The Drawing Board, it has almost been an entire year of business and we just can’t get enough of helping out our clients by filling their writing and content management needs. Not only does it enable us to write for a living (how amazing is that?!) but we also get to uplift them and what they are accomplishing through their goods and services. We are picky: we don’t work for just anyone. There are a few types of businesses and groups that we support that share similar characteristics and, at the Drawing Board, we have realized that this is a continuing theme in how we choose our clients. This is not to say that future clients need to fit this criteria, but it is really eye-opening to figure out who gels best with us and which types of businesses are best aided by our services.

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So who are we helping out?

They are small to medium-sized businesses and start-ups. All of the businesses we assist fit into these categories. We love to help people get on their feet in the cyber world – a task that can seem daunting at first but is made easy by our level of experience and expertise. We love helping family-run businesses and places that operate with real people running them. These types of businesses tend to be well-connected in their communities and involved in the growth of their neighbourhoods. We take pride in helping these groups grow and every part of the networks they touch.

They are all good people. At The Drawing Board, we come to work closely with every single business owner and marketing manager at each of our clients’ offices. These are quality, brilliant people who tend to be wildly talented and real visionaries. Whether they are one person with a mission to change the world, or a full-fledged company shaping the landscapes we all encounter daily, we have never found a bad apple and we don’t count on that happening anytime soon.

They are all environmentally-friendly businesses. We have clients whose work encourages people to be mindful and reconnect with nature and others who use organic skincare products in their spa. Whether they are a window fashion company that sells only GreenGuard certified products, or a signage business that uses the latest environmentally-friendly techniques, our commitment to the environment is felt in the clients we support.

We get to learn a lot. When you trust The Drawing Board to “learn” your business and manage your content, you are in good hands. We love research and that is not limited by the subject matter. We learn something new and amazing from every single client, and we relish in the enrichment it brings to our knowledge and our lives. We get to network a lot more too and get to know others through the incredible businesses and people we learn from as well. What a blessing!

We get to support all the good they do. Not only are our clients good people who strive to do well by the environment, but they also have high moral integrity and don’t engage in questionable business practices. We are happy to help those who not only do well but also hold others accountable to do well too. Our clients are active in their charity work and supporting integral community services. They know that good business means going beyond the bottom line: it means taking care of everyone who helped you get to where you are and helping others for the future too.

Here’s to another year of building brilliant business success!

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A little while ago, we had a blog post about How Travel Makes You a Better Writer and since we are professional writers, you would think we have traveled a fair amount. In this article, we will explore some of the lessons Nakita has learned about writing while going on a tour of all the places she has visited so far.

tumblr_mbxa59Xpfg1r1mmbpo1_500Paris: Always keep your wits about you. Shortly after I turned 18 years old, I booked a flight to Paris on a discount airline and announced to my family that I would be going away for six weeks. Being an overprotective Italian famiglia, they didn’t take this too well, but knowing me, they let me go. It was a bit of a learning curve for me the whole way through from figuring out where my hostel was, to getting lost in the Jardin des Tuileries, from having a dirty old man named Maurice literally French kiss me in the trees. Whether it was admiring the art or the beauty of this world-class city, Paris is all about keeping you on your toes. I went again the following year with a dear friend of mine, Carrie. Between laundry detergent exploding in her luggage the instant we arrived, episodes of urinating in the street, and endless marriage proposals from the Algerians selling wine under La Tour Eiffel, Paris hadn’t changed much. One particular instance that stands out is a young fellow named Taoufek following us back to our hotel, begging for our phone number. I scanned the street and spotted a number on the window of a nearby hairsalon. I’m sure he was surprised the next day. Poor guy.

tumblr_lcuzvgKxeC1qb0bzxo1_1280Krakow: Always leave room for the element of surprise. I have been to this beautiful Polish city three times in my life. The first time was just after I had been in Paris and I was traveling there for historical purposes – to go visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Little did I know how beautiful and brilliant the city would be – amazing, generous people, brilliant food, classic sights. Krakow has an incredible charm to it that I hadn’t really been expecting. And the deep appreciation that people from Krakow have for good jazz music meant that I was listening to some of the best tunes I had heard in awhile, almost everywhere I went. When I went back to Paris the following year, I also went back to Krakow. I just couldn’t stay away from that place. Kebabs the size of your head, Chopin being played in the streets; it was all too much. I went there again in January 2010 – visiting the winter was very different and I arrived on a whim for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The ceremony was bizarre and somber, and since I was in a psychologically dark place, the whole experience was quite void of the light and merriment I normally associate with Krakow. I will go back soon to rectify this.

tumblr_lspqeubZA01qaqfbbo1_500Greece: Always go to the doctor. After the second Paris, Krakow trip, I ended up in Greece, visiting Athens and Crete. Unfortunately, I had contracted an infection in Poland that I subsequently ignored and in the small town of Rethymnon on Crete, it caught up with me. Turns out you should always, always get antibiotics for a UTI or else, like it did for me, it will turn into a kidney infection and you will be hospitalized for three days with a doctor who wears flip flops and smokes cigarettes in a nasty wifebeater while he does your ultrasound. Other than nearly dying, Greece was amazing. This was in 2006 before the collapse of everything holy and sacred, where you could still buy tiropita on every street corner and the best meal you’ve ever had was chicken and potatoes in an unmarked, hole-in-the-wall in the port of Athens. Listening to Bouzkouki music outside under the infinite stars – a sight to behold which makes the current crisis and destruction of the country all the more heartbreaking.

folkloricoMexico: Never wear your glasses in the ocean OR when in doubt, add salsa. I’ve been to Mexico twice – Puerto Vallarta and Cancun – and had positive experiences both times. Unfortunately, the first day my family and I had arrived in Puerto Vallarta at our hotel, I decided to go body-surfing in the ocean and (like a dum-dum) left my only pair of glasses on my face. Little do most of you know, I’m nearly blind and I’m also petrified of birds so imagining my fear when a pelican was drifting towards me in-between waves. I was so distracted by it that I missed the giant wave coming at me until it slammed into my face, knocking my glasses into the swirling abyss, never to be found again. I was a screaming hot mess coming out of that ocean, sobbing like a madwoman. Luckily, my father has the same prescription as me and I got the joy of wearing his prescription sunglasses at night and his over-sized dad glasses during the day. Sexy stuff people. Did I mention that I was fourteen and bald because I had recently shaved my head to raise money for cancer? Oh Lord. The best parts of Mexico are its warm people, its beautiful landscapes and its unbelievable food. I would have to say that if someone held a gun to my head and made me pick a favourite world cuisine, Mexican would be it. (Although Lebanese is a close second).

59d5bbb08738877501630e3bd03b15afDominican Republic: Never keep your mouth shut. My dad lives in the Dominican Republic so it was only a matter of time before I made it out to this beautiful island country to visit him and his wife. The DR is a place of paradoxes and disparities. Rich gringos live the life behind walled compounds guarded by locals holding large rifles while illegal Haitians chisel out a meager living while being exploited by their Dominican bosses. The deep blue of the water at the soft-sand beaches is almost enough to make you forget the crippling poverty that envelopes the country and looks like paradise to its Haitian neighbor to the west. There are a lot of things I could write about my experience in the DR but what takes the cake was being invited to a lunch with a group of my dad’s colleagues in an affluent home and meeting a man who earned the title of the most self-righteous, racist, jack@$$ I have ever met. In the course of half a meal, he outed himself as a pompous Brit, hell-bent on proving to me that Dominicans are allergic to work and that something is wrong with their “blood”. Most people might smile and nod, not wanting to rock the boat with their dad’s business partner, but I’m not most people. Obviously, I outed him for the khemar (Arabic for donkey) that he is and promptly left the dining table to sit in the car. I couldn’t even stand the sight of this guy and regret nothing in leaving our host’s home to get away from him. Gringos! Bah!

Christmas-Lights-Temple-Square-Salt-Lake-City-Utah-3Salt Lake City, Utah: Trust yourself and take the time to feel your spirit. I went to Utah to be trained for my work in the nutrition field on a special medical device that measures inflammation in the body’s meridians. I certainly didn’t expect to have something verging on a religious experience. In case you didn’t know it, Salt Lake City is the Mecca of ‘Muricas Mormons (or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called). Walking around Temple Square talking to missionaries about their religion all day was deeply interesting to me. They were so open to my posing challenging (but respectful) questions (constantly), I could hardly believe it. It’s easily the cleanest city I have ever visited and I have yet to feel a sense of peace and stillness anywhere else as I did there. My cousin was living there at the time and when I asked her why everything was so calm and peaceful all the time, she replied that it was “Spirit”. There are a number of ways that one can quantify what I felt there- biologically, psychologically, socially, etc. However, I prefer to think of that journey as part of my personal evolution when I started to trust myself more and feel that stillness. As a convert to Islam, a lot of people are surprised to find that Latter Day Saints had a hand in my conversion to being a Muslim, but they did and I’m forever grateful for that.

tumblr_ml5g5zJ84R1s2u8uuo1_500_largeLondon: Don’t order the Chinese food. I’ve been to London twice for very short periods both times. The second time was after the Rethymnon hospitalization incident so London is a bit of a blur for me. All I really remember is that my hostel had about 4 inches of room around the perimeter of the bed for “walking” around and that I ordered chicken fried rice at a small Chinese joint and it cost £18. That is 36 dollars, people. For rice, oil and a couple scraps of chicken. I couldn’t wait to leave the UK.

tumblr_lzurp1SiRv1qb0bzxo1_500Italy: Fall in love and relish your family’s history. It is impossible for me to encapsulate Italy in a tiny paragraph on a blog full of other places to talk about. My experiences there have been so rich and life-changing that doing it justice is an impossibility. The first time I went to Italy, I explored the boot with my cousin Michele, visiting every city we could and hunting Carravaggios and Berninis in the chapels and museums of our beloved homeland. It was also the trip where I met my husband Bassam who had been living and working in Firenze for ten years. A year after the moon hit my eye like a big pizza pie at the sight of his nose, I lived there with him for a month. It was easily one of the best months of my life as it was Ramadan and I had unfettered access to an English language bookstore where I could read to my heart’s content (when I wasn’t sketching or jogging!). Later, I was also able to visit the land my family came from in Calabria, staying in the house my grandmother grew up in and waking up to the orchards of the Maione hills every morning. La dolce vita.

tumblr_lwmnvmR14f1r8ggsqo4_1280Morocco: The number of lessons I have learned from living a cumulative three years in Morocco as far too many to list here, let alone sum up in one cutesy subheading. I lived, loved and almost died in this country. Its people have entered my heart; its food has moistened my veins; its sounds have long echoed in my ears. My daughter was born there and, I have had some brilliant memories as well as the darkest moments of my life in the Maghreb. I built a primary school in a rural village there with my husband and now, my academic research is devoted to pedagogy of the Holocaust among Moroccan Muslims. For this, it will always be part of my history and likely my future as well. I learned independence and a strength I didn’t know I had – overcoming the most overwhelming of obstacles to rise and thrive another day.

Where have you been and what have you learned?