The event was a celebration of the stories and voices of Black community leaders in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and was hosted by Selam Debs and Carla Beharry, co-creators of the WOKE WO/MEN Speaking Events.
“The purpose and intention of these events is … to provide a platform for our racialized community members to have a space to tell personal stories, to share stories through our own voices,” Beharry said.
“This year, we’re focused on Black leaders and community members who are sharing their experiences, their stories, their wisdom, their expertise,” Debs said.
As the seventh edition of the WOKE WO/MEN Speaking Events, this is the first event to have been held virtually rather than in person. At its peak, there were a total of 270 attendees tuned into the event.
“We tried to mimic this as much as we could digitally, but again, it’s meant to be an experience. So we have African and Caribbean music, and food and artisans and designers. We’re really working to create a community and collective space where we can uplift each other,” Beharry said.
The event featured performances from DJ Jon Corbin, hip-hop dancer Tawheed Musa, spoken word poet Jaleel Debs and musician Rufus John, as well as art from Trisha Abe and audio and video production from Good Company Productions. The event was hosted and moderated by Utamika Van Zyl.
Debs said the focus for WOKE WO/MEN Speaking Events is to find voices within the KW community to highlight.
“Really what our focus is, is moving away from this idea that we have to look outside of our communities to find voices that we feel inspired by,” Debs said.
“We often don’t look at the incredible advocacy and wisdom and expertise that we have right here in our community, and so our focus is really shining a light — specifically for this WOKE Event — on Black voices.”
Speakers at the event included Dr. Kathy Hogarth, professor and co-founder of The Black Faculty Collective, Nicole Brown Faulknor, registered psychotherapist and trauma-sensitive yoga facilitator, Olufunke (Funke) Oba, professor and founder for Black Youth Project, Umi Mohammed, co-founder of Project UP (Unleashing Potential) and Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor, professor and co-founder of The Black Faculty Collective.
Many speakers decided to reframe what “stories of resilience” meant. Notably, Hogarth reframed her story as one of resistance, rather than resilience, against oppression.
“I have a problem sharing stories of being resilient … not because I’m not resilient, but because I’m forced to be resilient,” Hogarth said during the event.
At WOKE WO/MEN Speaking Events, Debs said they allow speakers to shape their own narratives and choose what they’d like to speak about.
“You have to create space for real conversations to happen that make everyone feel uncomfortable. That has to happen, and it has to be in a way that people can unapologetically speak their truth and feel safe and feel welcomed in doing so,” Debs said.
Beharry voiced that it was important to invite speakers to voice the stories that represent their lives.
“The overarching idea [is] that we’re often talking about overcoming adversity,” Beharry said.
Beharry and Debs emphasized the importance of this event for KW’s racialized communities, and the region as a whole.
“It’s important for there to be witnesses to stories … far too often we haven’t had our stories heard, we haven’t had our stories witnessed,” Beharry said.
“It’s important for there to be spaces where we begin to normalize having a diversity of voices and diversity of stories being told right in Kitchener-Waterloo, right now.”
Alyssa is the Editor-in-Chief of The Cord. She is finishing up her final semester in Laurier’s Faculty of Arts, as an English major and Global Studies minor. Alyssa likes pants more than shirts and thinks everyone looks good with a nose piercing.