With Farrah Khan, Possibility Seeds Founder
Amal Elmi is the Senior Advisor, Gender and Sexual Violence Prevention and Support at Carleton University. With her thoughtful and innovative approach to the work, she is a leader in the movement to support survivors on campus. Possibility Seeds was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Amal for the blog this month.
To start off: what’s bringing you joy right now?
What’s bringing me joy right now is spending some time in nature. I’ve also been trying to read more books on love and caring for myself. I carry these beautiful reminders to nourish myself.
My family also brings me great joy, especially my baby cousins; they are 11 months and two. Spending time with them is everything.
Can you tell me a bit about how you came to GBV work?
Like many people in this field, I started volunteering in a program for young girls in the West End of Ottawa when I was in high school and continued after I graduated. It was in that program I was first hired as a youth leader.
At that time, I started to also volunteer within the gender equity movements in Ottawa. I worked on violence against women, food security, affordable housing. I also was part of campaigns that ensured Black, racialized women, Indigenous women, women with access needs ran for municipal office and trustee positions.
This volunteer work sprung opportunities to work in various non-profit organizations on case management and led me to work in the post-secondary space at Carleton.
Are there pieces of Black feminist history that you wish people to know about?
Storytelling has been the backbone of understanding my Black feminist history as a Somali woman. The stories that shaped my understanding of community organizing and injustice are not written anywhere – they are part of oral tradition within my community. My mother is a leader for me and taught me to be fearless and bold in my work to create gender equity from a young age. She taught me the importance of meaningful, supportive, and incremental work.
What do you want GBV organizations to know about working with Black survivors?
If you want to work with Black survivors, it’s imperative to recognize that so many systems supposed to support us are not meant for us. Centring our communities is one way of addressing this. A start would be ensuring the staff is representative of the communities that it wants to serve. It’s imperative that Black staff are not just in frontline worker roles but also in senior leadership roles to advocate for the needed policy changes required for our communities to thrive.
For Black survivors, many rely on the existing network within the Black community because a lot of mainstream services are not able to provide the level of care and nuance that we need. Mainstream services often do not take into account PTSD, war trauma, colonialism, anti-Black racism, or misogynoir, in addition to gender-based violence.
It’s also about recognizing grassroots Black-led community groups that do incredible work with Black survivors. These groups are doing innovative crisis response, resource creation, and programming for our communities. They often don’t have charitable status, so funding is often limited while very under-resourced. I know mainstream gender-based violence services are strapped for money and resources, but finding ways to uplift and support grassroots Black organizations’ work is important.
To close out: what brings you hope in this work right now?
The one-on-one advocacy and support that I try to provide with survivors. I hope that my work is as meaningful and supportive as possible.
It’s the quiet moments – when you are on a support call with a survivor, and they can find joy in their life. Despite all the difficulties and harmful systems and biases we have to navigate alongside them, it’s a daily affirmation. In those moments, we talk about our favourite reality show or ice cream shop or how we hate colonialism. I feel full after those conversations. Fulfilled.
Suggested Citation: Courage to Act. (2022, February). A Conversation with Amal Elmi. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/amal-elmi.