On the morning of Saturday, September 28, I walked into my old alma mater at the University of British Columbia. 

The Robert. H Lee Alumni Center is a beautiful space and Stratagem 2019 — a 2.5-day summit focused on elevating conversations around diversity and inclusion in the workplace — took place within its modern, glass, and wood-hallowed halls. 

Cicely Blain, director and founder of Cicely Blain Consulting, a social justice consulting firm based in Vancouver is the conference founder and organizer of Stratagem. I’ve known Cicely for years. In fact, I used to facilitate anti-oppression workshops for a university youth group Cicely was a part of, way back in 2012. Fast forward seven years, and Cicely is on stage, introducing a conference she founded dedicated to conversations around diversity and inclusion for hundreds of creatives, professionals, and academics. Wow! 

When I walked into the conference space, I was faced with hundreds of attendees, waiting for the keynote to start. I don’t usually get nervous in big groups, but I was unprepared for the sheer size of the conference. I spotted someone in a pink shirt across the huge ballroom and made my approach. 

As luck would have it, Pink Shirt turned out to be an old friend from my undergraduate days in the Women’s and Gender Studies department. We had lost touch over the years, and it was an emotional reunion for both of us. Sitting next to my friend while we listened to the keynote, threw me back to when we used to sit next to one another in class, and listen to our professors lecture about anti-racism or sexual politics. How serendipitous that almost a decade later, we would meet in a similar space but completely different capacities. 

Speaking of the keynote, Blair Imani, an African-American Muslim author and Black Lives Matter activist gave a very energetic and powerful speech on the importance of talking back. Blair gave some practical tips and strategies to address oppressive culture in our daily lives. My favorite moment was when she shared her vision for approaching “call-out culture.” Blair shared that she would like to see people call and respond with the same type of casualness and je ne sais quois as when we stop our friends from revealing television or movie spoilers. Wouldn’t that be something? 

It was a true treat to witness a wonderful, creative Muslim woman up on stage, giving a keynote to a room full of professionals. It gave me a confidence boost as a moderator for my panel on creating Muslim-friendly spaces.

After the keynote, my panel was up. The speakers were Imtiaz Popat, a long-time community organizer and activist, Nisrine El-Amari, a healthcare professional and epidemiologist, and Ilhan Abdullahi, an instructor at Simon Fraser University. 

We had an in-depth conversation about the history of racism and Islamophobia in Vancouver, the importance of challenging this city’s pervasive PC culture and examining the intersectional identities of Muslims as full, complex human beings. 

It was a rare opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with other Muslims in the workforce. I am proud to have facilitated a discussion where we elevated the conversation beyond “accommodating” Islam in the workplace to a real conversation around what it is like to be Muslim in spaces that, at best, forget the role that faith plays in people’s everyday lives — Muslim or otherwise. 

Thank you to the panelists for being so willing to respond to my questions and share their experiences. 

All in all, the conference was very well-planned. I especially appreciated how the organizers activated artists such as myself to contribute in meaningful ways.

As a writer, part of my work is to ask questions. As such, I have the skill set to not only ask questions but listen for answers and nudge the conversation along to exciting places. Thank you, Stratagem, for the invitation to be a part of your conference and congratulations on a beautiful event!