Margaret Alala
Jill Andrew
Cecilia Alejo Rivas
Cherry Smiley

Margaret Alala
Master of Social Work at University of Victoria, British Columbia

Margaret grew up in Kenya and during her teenage years, she decided she wanted to work with children with mental disabilities or mental illness. For various reasons, this dream was not an option. After completing her schooling in Kenya, she attended Adelphi University in New York on a full scholarship and graduated summa cum laude with a BBA in Computer Applications. She received a tuition scholarship to attend New York University where she earned an MBA in Information Systems. Margaret returned to Kenya and worked as an Accountant then as Head of Finance and Informatics at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. During this time, she worked on small projects in Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Ethiopia. She also provided temporary assistance during the conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda. In Nairobi, she was actively involved in the locally-engaged staff committee where she successfully advocated for fair wages and other concerns on behalf of local staff. In 1994, Margaret received a certificate of outstanding service from the Canadian Secretary of State (Latin America & Africa) and in 1995, Margaret was a recipient of the Award of Excellence from the President of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Margaret returned to the US and worked for a successful woman-owned entrepreneurial company in New York. During this time, she volunteered with the Hospice of New Jersey as a patient care volunteer. She found hospice work to be one of the more meaningful experiences of her life. Margaret thought about changing careers, but felt daunted by what seemed like a monumental step. She immigrated to Canada as a skilled worker where she continued her hospice volunteering while working. She also volunteered at the Elizabeth Fry Society’s drop-in center and Coast Mental Health group homes. Margaret decided at this point to make a break and change careers. She worked with women on parole at Elizabeth Fry Society’s federal halfway house. This opened her eyes to the number of women in the Corrections system with mental illness and made her reflect on how Canada’s current mental health policy was not meeting their needs.

Though she no longer has time for her small crafts and ethnic jewelry business, Margaret strives to provide entrepreneurial women with information they need to start their own businesses. She was a storyteller in Women’s Enterprise Centre’s book Creating Your Business – Success By Design published in 2006. This publication is a learning guide for women venturing into self-employment.

Margaret has been a Master of Social Work student at the University of Victoria since 2011. In Fall 2013, she will be undertaking a practicum at the African Mental Health Foundation in Kenya where she plans to familiarize herself with mental health practice in an African context. Her practicum last summer was with the intensive case management team at Coast Mental Health’s At Home/ Chez Soi project. This was a pilot research project using the Housing First approach to housing the homeless with mental illness and addictions in Vancouver (http://athome.nfb.ca/#/athome). Margaret’s plans upon degree completion include exploring alternatives to incarceration for women living with mental illness in Canada’s Corrections system. Margaret is also interested in exploring ways to reduce incarceration rates as well as improve prison and remand conditions for women in Kenya and assisting women to get back on their feet following their release. She would eventually like to build a resource center or ‘community of support’ center in Kenya to provide advocacy services for people living with or recovering from mental illness.

Jill Andrew
PhD Candidate, York University, Faculty of Education
MA, University of Toronto, New College, Women & Gender Studies

Jill Andrew is a full-time PhD student in the Faculty of Education at York University. Her dissertation is currently titled “Abject in the City? Stories of Female Corporeality from the Margins.” It focusses on female body images, personal narratives both in-person and online, body (re)presentations in popular culture and body activisms as resistances against controlling images and socially dominant normalized body ideals. Jill will explore different ‘body projects’ within her dissertation. Her topics include: “Fat in the City: Monologues (and narratives) of Corpulent Proportions” documenting fashion/dress/consumer/blogging and blog discourse experiences of some fat women in Canada; “Bleached in the City: Erasing Darkness” an exploration of the socio-cultural, economic, raced and gendered experience of some Black female ‘bleachers’ (or those who have bleached or thought of participating) in Canada and lastly “Empowered in the City: Transgressive Body Spaces & Places” investigating where, with whom and how female “marginalized” bodies construct and negotiate identity and belonging as a strategy to help find and execute their oppositional gazes. Above all, Jill who also identifies as a Black feminist and fat activist is curious as to how some females create and sustain spaces within a society in which, all too often she believes, too much “fat” and too much “Black” are either fetishized or often produce feelings of fear, disgust and disavowal for many. Her work is heavily informed by feminist, poststructuralist, post-colonial, anti-racist, fat studies theoretical frameworks and arts-based and qualitative interviewing decolonizing methodologies. Jill completed her MA at the University of Toronto, New College in Women & Gender Studies.

Outside of the academy Jill is the founder/director of BITE ME! Toronto International Body Image Film & Arts Festival, Curvy Catwalk Fashion Fundraiser, most recently co-founder of Fat in the City fashion, news and lifestyle blog and Fashion at Every Size (FAES) The Movement. In 2010 Jill was 1 of 120 women from across Canada handpicked by the Office of the former Governor General Michaëlle Jean to participate in the first ever Governor General Women’s Conference: Together for Women’s Security at Rideau Hall. Additionally, she was 1 of 7 conference delegates nominated to draft the conference’s Declaration of Rights & Responsibilities for Women in Canada Communiqué for Parliament. Jill has been an active lifestyle, community, education and careers columnist for the past decade within local newspapers such as Metro News & tonightnewspaper among others earning her awards such as the Michele Landsberg Media Activism Award, Canadian Ethnic Media Association Awards the African Canadian Women’s Achievement Award among others.

Jill’s greatest accomplishments she states have been in her community. A proud resident of Scarborough, ON Jill remains active as both advisor and volunteer with Tropicana’s Youth Services (home to the Scarborough Youth Resource Centre- a youth program Jill often says saved her adolescent life!), supporter and sessional workshop facilitator to Scarborough Women’s Centre, YWCA and Black Girls Can homework and mentoring volunteer services an initiative she created to help support girls academically, socially and emotionally among other initiatives. Jill also advises and volunteers with Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) and National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) among other seats. One of Jill’s seminal quotes is by the late Audre Lorde: “If you do not define yourself for yourself you will be crunched into other peoples’ fantasies of you…for you and eaten alive.” While Jill is no fan of neo-liberal self-made ‘boot-strap’ ideology she does believe in the power of determination and self-advocacy when paired with the necessary human and systemic supports. As such she credits her mother, partner, mentors, academic advisors and her friends who are family for helping to inspire, motivate and believe her into being even when she had doubts and experienced traumas of her own. Special thanks go to Dr. Karen Stanworth Jill’s current PhD academic supervisor, Dr. Allyson Mitchell (York University, Women’s Studies) committee member, Dr. Aparna Mishra Tarc (York University, Faculty of Education), Drs. June Larkin and Sandra Acker, her MA academic supervisory team, Dr. M Jacqui Alexander (University of Toronto, WGSI), and Eleanor Edwards, President of Positive Possibilities, one of Jill’s key mentors since she was 14 years old. Jill plans (among a million other things!) to one day create a Self Esteem Society for females where they can learn to live, love, lavish themselves intellectually, plot against societies inequities and one day take over the world unapologetically. For more on Jill Andrew visit www.BiteMeFilmFest.com or www.FatinTheCity.com.

Some titles of Jill’s previous and upcoming academic publications include:
  • Andrew, Jill. "Jilly's Underwear." Invisible Girl. Eds. Drs. Elza Dunkels, Gun-Marie Franberg and Camilla Halligren. UMEA: UMEA University, 2012. (Peer-reviewed)
  • Andrew, Jill. "Popular Magazines, [Some] Black Women & Body Image". Invisible Girl. Eds. Drs. Elza Dunkels, Gun-Marie Franberg and Camilla Halligren. UMEA: UMEA University, 2012. (Peer-reviewed)
  • “Uprooted but Stronger: One Black Woman’s Journey through Female Hair loss.” (Health Tomorrow: Interdisciplinary & International Digital Journal, peer-reviewed, forthcoming)
  • “I’ve got the Power! Black Women, Weight Watchers & Weight Loss” (Fat Studies: International Journal on Body Weight & Society, peer-reviewed, forthcoming)
  • “Odd Size Out: Young, Fat and Fabulous? "Plus Size" Shopping Experiences” (Jeunesse Journal, peer-reviewed, forthcoming)
    And more…
Some titles of Jill’s previous and upcoming conference presentations include:
  • Fat in the City Monologues of Corpulent Proportions: Exploring Performance-based Research as a Political Tool for Critical Fat Activism
  • Fat in the City: Multimodal Body Activisms of Corpulent Proportions
  • “Plus Size” Fashion Blogging: Fat Activism or Fat Consumerism (in Sheep’s Clothing) and Shades of Grey In Between (Forthcoming)
  • Bleached in the City? From Light-Skin Privilege to Skin-Bleaching Practices and the Pursuit of “Function” Beauty in Canada: What Do Black Women Have to Say? (Forthcoming)
    And more…
Some titles of Jill’s previous and upcoming guest lecture, keynote panel and keynotes by invitation include:
  • Eating Disorders, Race & Gender: Spotlight on Black Women, Body Image & Skin-Bleaching Practices *Fat in the City: Bodies in Motion
  • And Still We Females Rise
  • (Mis)Representation of Black People in the Media *Fat Hate Hurts: Exploring Body-Based Harassment & Body Image as Equity, Human Rights Issue
  • “Above Average?” Structural Inequities: Fat Female Consumer Shopping Experiences
    And more…

Cecilia Alejo Rivas
Juris Doctor Candidate 2014
University of Windsor

Cecilia Alejo Rivas was born in El Salvador and arrived to Canada at age three along with her family who were seeking protection from the civil war. Her story is one she later found to be similar to other immigrant youth: one of poverty, identity shaping, and the creation of a new family/support system. It was the experience of poverty, familial breakup, and many of the obstacles seen as normal for other immigrant families that instilled in her an arduous passion for the rights of children, youth and women. It was this dedication that led to her pursuing her law degree. Cecilia is a Juris Doctor candidate in her final year at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law. She also holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University. Cecilia is working towards combining her experience as a social worker, artist and law student into an approach towards youth criminal law through a trauma-informed, anti-oppressive and gender appropriate framework.

Cecilia has worked with various community organizations and is a vocal advocate for the development of female-centred spaces, woman’s rights and systemic oppression. She has mobilized young artists, mothers, and community members to assist her in creating and facilitating non-traditional, arts-based programming for youth, with specific attention to young girls and youth deemed ‘at-risk’ in Toronto, Cuba, El Salvador and Chile. These programs utilize art as a form of engagement and include: all girls bullying seminar using photography, community graffiti murals, film-based gang exit strategies and all girl break dancing classes. While facilitating youth engagement programs in inner city Toronto, Cecilia began to feel the need to draw attention to the issues that the children, youth, mothers and families she worked with encountered.

Her research has focused on these issues and includes: the influx of high school drop out rates in the Spanish Speaking community; the development of gang identity; and the importance of recognizing childhood trauma as a mental health issue when framing reintegration programs for young offenders. Cecilia is currently focusing her research and advocacy to bridge the gaps between recidivism in youth and trauma, whilst linking social work, mental health and the legal community.

Cecilia hopes to become an avenue of access to justice for youth, their parents, with a focus on young women who have been involved with the justice system. Being one of the few females and Latinas that work with youth involved in crime and gangs in Toronto, she intends to return to her community and apply her new abilities. Cecilia wants to bring light to the experience of young women who are in gangs or are criminally involved, as these experiences are quite different than that of young men. She has found that their histories are too often laden with physical and sexual abuse, community and family violence and other traumas that start a very young age and continue into the adolescent and adult lives of young women. She believes this deserves a gender and culturally specific approach. Cecilia strongly believes that recidivism in youth crime could be avoided if the trauma is recognized in the beginning of the young person’s interaction with the criminal justice system. She feels that we must distinguish trauma as a mental health issue first, and actively begin the discussion around sentencing youth in a more holistic manner.

Cherry Smiley
Masters of Fine Arts, Simon Fraser University

Cherry Smiley is a Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) and Dine’ (Navajo) woman living, working, and studying on unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver BC. She has been politically organized in the women’s liberation movement since 2008 as a feminist activist and anti-violence worker. Like many First Nations women, Cherry was raised in a home where the effects of colonialism were obvious, poverty, male violence against women and girls, abuse, disability, mental health issues, and drug and alcohol addiction. As a young girl, Cherry made the decision to abstain from drinking and drugs, and is proud today to say that she has never used alcohol or drugs. Cherry attributes her success in elementary and high schools to this decision, combined with some luck and with the support of her Grandparents. She eventually graduated from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. It was during the final year of her undergraduate degree that Cherry enrolled in a feminist theory class and discovered a vocabulary to explain the conditions of her life, and the lives of so many First Nations women and girls in Canada.

In 2008, Cherry relocated to Vancouver BC where she began working as a rape crisis and transition house worker at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS), where she continues to work relief shifts today. At VRRWS, she supports women victims of male violence with support, education, and advocacy. In 2008, Cherry also joined a volunteer collective of feminist Aboriginal women, the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN). From 2008 – 2011, as a member of AWAN, she helped to raise public awareness about colonialism, patriarchy, racism, and capitalism; systems that all target and adversely impact the lives of Aboriginal women and girls. From 2008 – 2011, Cherry was invited to speak locally, nationally, and internationally as a member of AWAN in Vancouver and across the Lower Mainland, Prince Rupert, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, New York City (Parallel Event – 55th UN Commission on the Status of Women), and various cities in Denmark and Norway, where she educated the public about sexual violence against Aboriginal women and girls and prostitution as a form of continued colonialism. At VRRWS, Cherry curated the art exhibit Flesh Mapping: vancouver markets pacific women, and it was then that she realized the power art has an activist tool to express trauma, to educate the public, and to speak out and against male violence against women and girls. Cherry applied to Emily Carr University of Art & Design, where she attended classes until she entered the Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Simon Fraser University (SFU). At SFU, Cherry was awarded the inaugural Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Award (Masters).

In addition to studying full time at SFU, and working relief shifts at VRRWS, Cherry also worked part-time at a local Native youth organization, where she helped to coordinate an anti-violence initiative for young native women and girls to talk about violence, create art, and deliver anti-violence workshops for the community. At the end of 2012, Cherry co-founded the activist group, Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI). IWASI is a volunteer public education and advocacy group of Indigenous women and girls who see prostitution as a form of continued colonialism and who advocate for the abolition of prostitution using the Nordic Model of prostitution policy. As an IWASI member, Cherry has spoken locally in Vancouver and across the Lower Mainland, organized an IWASI-hosted forum, and has been invited to speak at conferences in London, England, and Toronto, Ontario. Her thesis project at SFU will focus on the abolition of prostitution and prostitution as a form of continued colonialism.

Cherry’s volunteer and paid work over the past six years in the women’s liberation movement has taken her across continents. At times beautiful and hopeful, at times exhausting, she has been gifted with a growing confidence in herself, her voice, and her artwork. This confidence is essential in the completion of a Masters degree, and in her continued growth as an artist, educator, and feminist activist working for the liberation of women and girls worldwide.

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