Human Library


wow_human_library_16Deconstructing Communit(ies); Intersecting Identities

What is community? Who belongs? Who is excluded? Who makes the decisions? What does it mean to be within, or outside the borders of a community. How are our intersectional* identities acknowledged or disregarded in various spaces?

Anti-Black racism, colonialism, transphobia, Islamophobia, ableism and saneism all play out in different spaces. This Human Library seeks to problematize the construct of communit(ies).

Join us to hear people speak about their own triumphs in a complex world that often forces us to simplify our full selves. Each participant in our human library can be checked out, like a book, for 25 minutes of one-on-one time. Hear a story, share an insight and gain perspective.

This event is open to students, staff and community members.

When: Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017, 11 am-3 pm
Where: East Common Room, Hart House
Cost: Free / Register online

*First coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw,“Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them. Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more. Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.”

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Opinion | Why intersectionality can’t wait.” The Washington Post. September 24, 2015.


2017 Human Books

Naeema Hassan / The Battle of Choosing Sides Between my Blackness and my Spirituality
Sapphire Woods / So This Is Why I Talk To Plants
Mike Ormsby / On Being “Ojibberish”
Kate Welsh / Queer CRIP (Queer Community Resistance Intimacy Project)
Rudapriya Rathore / How to Celebrate Dusshera, or a Guide to Being a Rajput Girl
Bidhan Berma / The Last Train East
Elvia Maria Peñate / I’m Not from Here Ni De Allá: My story of being a Mestiza, Latinx Queer Woman
Arij Elmi / The Tender-Hearted Badass
Seán Kinsella / How to avoid doing the splits while traveling down a rainbow coloured river with your feet in two canoes (Hint: It’s not easy)
Sharine Taylor / home: beyond and between borders
Sandra Whiting / Quitting is Never an Option
Jennifer Hollett / Wait, don’t slam the door on my face.
Mitchell George / For Our Generations to Come – Ceremony Saved My Life
La Toya Dennie / Toya from the block



Naeema Hassan / The Battle of Choosing Sides Between my Blackness and my Spirituality
Story available in: English

I would like to share my journey as Black Muslim woman living in a world where I am attacked through the lens of human beings who aren’t educated or aware of who I am. But also sharing my struggle of not feeling like I belong anywhere within the muslim community and the black community.

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Sapphire Woods / So This Is Why I Talk To Plants
Story available in: English

I am a 1.5 generation Trini queer daughter. And queer as in sexuality and Trini as in a mix of bush gyal, indentured Indian, forgotten children, (inter)generational abuse and trauma, so much sunshine and dense growth. There was a time when I thought that none of those parts would be reconciled or explored since the culture of silence is something intrinsically inherited. To come out for me wasn’t just about me loving other women – specifically another Trini woman – but queering my other relationships as well. What does it mean to queer blood ties and spiritual ties to the family/families I belong to and what does it mean to queer how I see and navigate these worlds for myself?
West Indian queers, especially femme spectrum queer identities are rarely explored interculturally. Being a Human Book gives me the opportunity to represent the existing queer culture in Trinidad, the diaspora which I come out of, and mainly give perspective and solidarity to others who can identify with me.

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Mike Ormsby / On Being “Ojibberish” *
Story available in: English

I should start by introducing myself properly:
W’ dae b’ wae indishnikaaz, Ojibwe Anishinaabe indaaw, Mukwa indoodem.

My name is W’ dae b’ wae (“Speaks Truth”), I am Ojibwe Anishinaabe, Bear is my clan.

I am an Anishinaabe artist, craftsman, storyteller, outdoor educator, and canoe builder. I build birch bark and wood canvas canoes.

I signs my work as W’ dae b’ wae, the Anishinaabe name given to me by the late Elder Art Solomon. The meaning of w’ dae b’ wae is “he or she is telling the truth, is right, is correct, is accurate.” I hope my artwork speaks to that same truth. Through my art, I try to share Anishinaabe culture, teachings and traditions. My family is from Curve Lake First Nation.

I am very proud of my Anishnaabe heritage. I was very fortunate to have Art Solomon, an Anishinaabe Elder, as one of my teachers.

*I feel very proud of my First Nations heritage….as well as my Irish Canadian roots. A Cree friend in Fort Severn said I must be ‘Ojibberish’. But I am honoured to be Anishniaabe…and to have learned some of our teachings.

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Kate Welsh / Queer CRIP (Queer Community Resistance Intimacy Project)
Twitter: @queer_kate
Instagram: @equitybuttons @cripcarecards
Story available in: English, ASL – but patience required!

Kate Welsh is a white settler, cis queer crip community activist, feminist artist and educator. She just finished her Masters of Education at OISE where she focused on researching queercrip identities and resiliency strategies. Additionally she facilitated weekly crafting workshops for Hart House’s wellness programs, she runs LGBTQ community wellness and mental health groups and continues to co-author books for WomanSafeHealth on women’s health care and advocacy. More recently Kate has been working on an initiative to promote the social inclusion, awareness and policy recommendations for people with Episodic Disabilities, disabilities that have periods of wellness and periods of illness including many chronic health conditions. She has been exploring ways in which to not just change policy but by creating consumable art that tackles hard to talk about topics such as chronic illness. Her projects include Community Resistance Intimacy Project (C.R.I.P), Equity Buttons and CripCareCards. Alongside her disability activism, Kate currently works as a social worker in the VAW shelter system and brings crafting to survivors of abuse.

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Rudapriya Rathore / How to Celebrate Dusshera, or a Guide to Being a Rajput Girl
Twitter: @rrudrapriya
Story available in: English

My mother’s nickname as a child was Baby. Unlike the rest of her religious, high-caste Hindu family, she didn’t really believe in pundits and prayer. But when Dusshera, a religious ceremony celebrating the heroic god Rama, takes place at her home, the pundit somehow intuits 12-year-old Baby’s lack of faith and decides to confront her about it. The event that follows is like a myth: eerie, inexplicable, and open to multiple interpretations.

What binds cultures and communities together? What is it about belonging that requires a certain openness to stories, a capacity for receiving, understanding, and retelling them? This little story is about my mother, but it also taught me about the importance of communal narratives.

I think it’s incredibly important to share familial and cultural stories. This is how we learn about the lives of other people, what they value and how they express themselves. Without being able to hear a narrative in someone’s own voice, a story loses some candour and honesty. And the more often a story is told by someone to whom it really matters, the more likely that story is to live as a piece of knowledge.

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Bidhan Berma / The Last Train East
Story available in: English, Nepali, French

Growing up in Toronto’s east end as an asian man who loves hip-hop and Caribbean culture as if it’s his own, Berma has gone through many trials and tribulations navigating through the maze of a Toronto arts community.

This is a new experience for me and I feel like my history of performing arts alongside artist education allows for me to be efficient and impactful in my storytelling ability.

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Elvia Maria Peñate / I’m Not from Here Ni De Allá: My story of being a Mestiza, Latinx Queer Woman
Story available in: English, Spanish

This is the story of Elvia Maria Peñate and the resilience of her overcoming abuse at the hands of loved one’s, community and society for being different. Elvia Maria was able to rise from the ashes of pain, despair and loneliness to find that even when shit has you down; you can come out on the other side.

Join Elvia Maria on the road of finding her place; in a society that she don’t belong in for being too brown and a woman, not belonging with the Latinx community for being too Gringa, being questioned on her queerness, and being part of family who can’t or won’t heal from generations of trauma. Discover how intersectionality and anti-oppression has played into Elvia Maria’s path of healing that she can say I know now where I fit.

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Arij Elmi / The Tender-Hearted Badass
Story available in: English, Somali

My name is Arij Elmi but I also go by AJ. That’s a childhood nickname known only to my dear ones. The ones that know my strength and beauty but also acknowledge my shortcomings. I’m proud of my activism combatting violence against women and Islamophobia and I’ve been privileged to lend my name to this work. But my name no longer tells the entire story. That behind the rage and pride, there is fear and there are tears. That the louder I shout, the more my voice breaks. That this work is messy and lonely and I sometimes wonder if it makes a difference. I’m proud to be described as a badass but I also privilege the part of me that is tender and vulnerable. Together these parts make up all of me.

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Seán Kinsella/ How to avoid doing the splits while traveling down a rainbow coloured river with your feet in two canoes (Hint: It’s not easy)
Twitter: @seeseantweet
Story available in: English

What does it mean to exist today as a(n) (in)visibly queer, disabled and urban Indigenous person in the context of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC) and the year of the 150th “anniversary” of the founding of Canada? How do we understand concepts of being mixed race and Métis and what this means for notions of home and belonging?

Join Seán (nehi(th/y)aw/nakawe/Irish/Métis) a seasoned Student Affairs professional and Professor in Indigenous Studies at Centennial College in exploring how the roles of education, storytelling, and understanding our own narratives is critical for building a new understanding of this place we call Turtle Island as home for everyone, while honouring those ones who have come before.

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Sharine Taylor / home: beyond and between borders
Twitter: @shharine
Story available in: English

My story is one of what it’s like to foster citizenship and belonging beyond, between within and without borders. As an Afro-Jamaican, Canadian-born child of the African diaspora, I spend a lot of time thinking of how my racialized body is scripted as one that does not belong, my existence is up for questioning and even in spaces where I feel at “home”, it can always be disrupted. I’ve tried to contest and negotiate these feelings through art and writing.

My story is by no means unique or new but I do think that I’ve tried to chronicle it in an interesting way that I do enjoy sharing and allowing others to experience, especially if the particulars of my experience have not been known.

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Sandra Whiting / Quitting is Never an Option
Story available in: English, Jamaican patois/Jamma language

“Once upon a time a long time ago there was……

Don’t you want to know more?”

. . . Yes, yes. Tell me more. .Yes, yes . . . is that true? Yes, yes, tell me more…

When Sandra Whiting tells a story, her audiences usually can never get enough; partly because she shares herself and the experience is an interactive one.

Stories are not just for scaring children or transporting them into fantasies beyond their dreams. Her stories are for adults as well. We are never too old to hear a story; never too old to share ourselves or to be transported to magical places. For sometimes, these magical journeys help us to make sense of our own world and our place in it.

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Jennifer Hollett / Wait, don’t slam the door on my face.
Twitter: @jenniferhollett
Story available in: English

Most people feel politics is floating above them in Ottawa, completely disconnected from their lives. Yet at the core of democracy, politics belongs to all of us. In 2013 I made the leap from journalism into federal politics, entering a nomination campaign in a Toronto Centre by-election. I was also the NDP candidate in the 2015 federal election here in University Rosedale, and worked as the Digital Director on Olivia Chow’s mayoral run. I have knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, and have heard everything. I mean everything. It’s no surprise so many people hate politics, as many groups have never been invited to the table in the first place. I ran for office with the hopes it could be better; relevant, inclusive, and community driven. And maybe even fun. That politics is what we make it. While I lost, there are many victories in my political journey that I hold close to my heart. The biggest one is engaging so many people who had never been involved with a political campaign before.

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Mitchell George / For Our Generations to Come – Ceremony Saved My Life
Story available in: English

Ska-tig-naado-a-nina dishnakaas mshiikeh doodem kikoonong doonjiba.

My name is Red Pine Sprit Man. I am Turtle Clan. I am from Kettle Point. I am Anishnaabe, Pottawattami, Odawa, and Ojibwe. I am 36 years old.

I am an intergenerational residential school survivor. I am a sundancer pipe carrier. I am a singer and I participate and practice the teachings from ceremonies. I do my best to practice in my daily life, the seven grandfather teachings. I am just a normal guy trying to live life and follow my heart and hopes and dreams. I want to make those dreams a reality. Through ceremony we teach each other respect, humility, and love—love oneself and each other, and every thing in creation.

My ceremony family has given me hope. It has given me family structure. Community becomes family. Community is give and take, food, helping out, volunteering, stacking chairs. It has taken me so many places—Mexico, Newfoundland, South Korea.

I am going to school, I want to become a teacher, I want to teach my language. Knowing language changes everything. If there is no language, there is no culture, how can we preserve our way of life if we don’t have language? If we cannot teach our kids? It is for the youth. It is for my daughter, I want her to be proud of me.

Through ceremony we heal as a community. We heal as a family, we heal as individuals. We teach each other respect, humility, and love—love oneself and each other, and every thing in creation. I don’t think I would be here without ceremony. Ceremony saved my life.

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La Toya Dennie / Toya from the block
Story available in: English

Finding my purpose was not as simple as I thought it would be. I always believed that I was decisive, motivated, and intelligent and I thought this could bring me anywhere. At a young age, I made the decision to become a lawyer and I thought that this was my purpose. I felt that practicing law would allow me to help many of the young men in my community that found themselves in trouble with the law and as tom-boy this was very important to me. I could help members of my family that had issues with the law and my ability to earn an attractive salary would most definitely help me create new wealth for my family.

The world outside my neighbourhood was much different than I thought it would be; I began to experience and see some of the barriers that I would have to face in order to reach my goal and those barriers were never a part of my plan. Law became a distant goal and uncertainty was much more clear. Learning how to be reflective instead of critical of my experience was challenging and necessary to helping me be the person that I was meant to be. My pathway is uncertain but I am open to what the world has to teach me.

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