Written by: ILANA REIMER
Ililli Ahmed, 17, doesn’t hesitate to take part in any new opportunities that offer safe spaces for underrepresented youth. This is what led her to become a SMART START delegate in 2017.
For her, the summit went far beyond youth networking. It gave the participants the tools and skill-building resources to navigate the biased workplaces and educational systems that minority groups often face.
Ililli is passionate about speaking up about these challenges. Most recently, she was awarded second place in the RBC Black History Month Student Essay Competition. Ililli, who is currently in Grade 12 at Colonel By Secondary School, won a $2,500 scholarship for her submission on Kathleen Livingstone.
She first discovered Kathleen Livingstone through an online Canadian History class. “For a particular project I decided to write about intersectional feminism in Canada,” Ililli said. “And I stumbled on the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, which Kay Livingstone founded in the 1970’s.”
Then, when it came to writing her essay, Ililli knew where to find her inspiration. “It was Kathleen Livingstone’s dedication to the inclusion of Black female voices that really resonated with me and compelled me to write about her,” Ililli said. “As the co-founder of my school’s Intersectional Feminism Club, Livingstone’s Black feminist work renewed my pride in my own endeavours.”
Ililli found out at the end of January that she’d been awarded second place in the competition. “The win was especially sweet considering that I had an amazing support system to help me through the creative process,” she said. “My amazing best friend and remarkable teachers and mentors, to name a few.”
Ililli knows the value of building connections and people who have your back. In fact, this was her favourite part of last year’s summit. She loved meeting, networking and learning from the other young people who participated. “Many people that I met last year are still very good friends of mine,” Ililli said. “And it was so, so nice to not be the only minority in the room.”
Through SMART START 2017, Ililli discovered the power and importance of creating places where minorities can speak openly about their experiences and find ways to use their ideologies in future careers and education.
Ililli is eager to recommend the upcoming SMART START to other young people. “It is a safe space where you can be unapologetically you,” she said. “Plus, the application is very easy, the event is completely accessible—all expenses are paid and transportation is provided. You meet the most incredible people. No tokenization, no fear, just fun!”
Are you aged 13-18? Want to learn from Ottawa’s most experienced and influential young minds, and bring your own ideas to the table? Apply for SMART START 2018 here.