“There is a lot of validation that comes from the media. I have always felt like people who looked like me were underrepresented and it was evident in the characters I chose to write about in stories as a child or in things I used to illustrate. My most challenging experience is forever ongoing as I tried and am still trying to find value and worth in myself and the stories that come with being a person who looks like me. Growing up Black is hard. People do not always appreciate Blackness and sometimes blatantly dismiss you because of this. It happens everywhere from airports to mosques, from grocery stores to parks. Well, combine that with the steady struggles of being Muslim and that creates a very straining experience. There is lots of patience that goes into being Black and Muslim in a society and world like this.”
Uma is 25, a teacher, and a poet. She told me she is proud to be a “teacher and poet in Calgary’s Islamic community. As a member of the community, I feel like the representation that comes along with being a Black Muslim woman in the classroom or on stage is validating to many other children who share aspects of my identity.” What’s most important to Uma is respect as it is “free to give and free to accept so it costs no one anything. I have seen how people disrespect one another and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially when children are the ones being disrespected. For that reason, I make a conscious effort to respect people’s space, time, preferences, and overall personhood.” Her own favourite quality is “how soft I am. I cry a lot because I feel a lot and that is one of my favourite things about myself. My sensitivity makes me the kind of teacher and the kind of poet that I am and I think I am very lucky to have the softness that I possess.” When I asked Uma what her proudest accomplishment is she told me “becoming the woman that I am.” She continued, “I was raised by my parents to be curious and bewildered as often as possible so maintaining a sense of wonder in my adulthood is probably my greatest accomplishment. I firmly believe that as people, we often seek betterment and develop compassion when we are in pursuit of answers. As a curious person, I always have questions therefore I am forever on this journey of increased compassion and personal development towards betterment.”
Where is your favourite place to find yourself?
“I am happy in the mountains. I am happy in a near-empty masjid. I am happy near books.”