Against All Odds

I wrote this poem in 2012 and reflecting on it 8 years later, every word is still etched in me. The last few days have been hard and I have relied on my faith to help me make sense of it. Seeing Black bodies threatened and murdered only to be paraded online is like an open wound that repeated has salt rubbed in.

When I can’t find the worlds to speak, I find comfort in poetry. This poem could have been written today.

Against All Odds

Saddened and confused

i seek refuge in my lord

not knowing when my answer will come

but believing that it will.

Prayer… my only armour

Against this feeling…

awkward

and alone

in space

nothing to mark its beginning

or mark its ending

yet certain

that this is a mark of affliction affection

that mark of an enemy’s humbleness in war

that panting breath that I too often seek to rescue

my mother raised me to be compassionate

and considerate

so I take heed

at my own cost

and I take leave

for my own loss

is that I have lost myself in this whirlwind of a life

can’t discern my left from my right my wrong from my right I’m left here to write

I see my mother smiling and not far enough in the distance

just above recognition

And I remind myself

that I will not play catch up for the rest of my life

I will commit to greatness and no longer wait

as my mother watches and wonders

Why I don’t call on her much more for help

I instead hold myself in place and remain

motionless but walking

silent but talking foolishness

I wish I could sing a song so sweet

and nourish the weak and young at the same time

and with the same lives lines

I whisper the words of my Lord

as I lay my head in preparation for a brief death

Praying for fairer skies, tranquility and rescue

I rush towards success…like infants suckle at breasts

engorged with love

courage and love

forgive and love

forget and love

I now know love

loving my enemies a bit more then my companions

loving my insecurities and bit more till they vanish

i’m fit for this challenge, perfectly damaged

I have faced this before

my face to the floor

screaming I surrender

my face to the floor

screaming I surrender

my face to the floor

screaming I surrender

my face to the floor

not knowing

this was the closest I had been to my lord

He.

He.

Serpent with wings

Whose ‘purity’ contaminates my vision

I am blind and He

He is my sight.

He.

Coloniser

Does not sleepwalk through life

Does not lie on pillows of crushed velvet tears

These trees

A living witness

To the deafening silence

Of a culture eroded

A history maimed

Bodies unclaimed

He.

Oppressor

Still holds me close

Collapsing on my skin

Wrapped around my legs

Maligning my darkened body

Falling over my indigenous soul

His guilt carried on the arch of my back

His fingertips could almost taste me

He.

Is the crimson pool that bathes my ancestors

The injured tongue that imprisons my children

The pervasive eyes that cradle my mother

The superstitious mind that dethrones my legacy

He

Disavows, denies and disowns

This hollowed earth cannot hold his ego

Nor tame his tongue

Words cannot unteach his truth

His soliloquy is law

His privilege is might

He is blind

And now I,

I must be his sight.

Broken

The road is broken,

and I have lost my way.

Etching words,

that fall down empty wells,

and hollow ears.

This place,

I could not have known.

This cold,

piercing through burning rage.

I draw my heart on foggy windows,

looking out to dust filled roads,

broken,

lost.

No sign of love here.

No sign of home.

Covid19

Moments of silence,

Seasons of rain,

Thoughts of forgiveness,

Stories of pain.

Hands held in prayer,

Washed away sins,

Skies held by ropes,

Words clipping wings.

Isolation or solitude,

Perception is key,

Truth is entangled,

Myths guaranteed.

The powerless pay,

Political mudswinging,

Silver spoon vs.

Difficult upbringing.

Pause for a second,

Clap for a day,

How high will you jump?

How long will you stay?

No final goodbyes,

Just loss and regret,

Tributes to remind us,

Lest we forget.

In calm and in chaos,

We long for embrace,

The touch of a hand,

A kiss on your face.

Tomorrow is waiting,

The work will begin,

To rebuild what is broken,

To thicken our skin.

But today is a moment,

A season of will,

Thoughts now encaptured,

Stories held still.

Anti-Racist work: When you break the cycle of silence, you open a door for change

A recognition of racism; both its intent and impact is essential for developing anti- racist educational spaces. The biggest obstacles we often face in doing this work is encountering a culture of silence and/or denial.

Silence and denial from those that enact and those that experience racism, allows racism in all forms to be sustained in a space. When racist behaviours, structures and systems go unchallenged for so long that they become pervasive and normalised, it becomes our responsibility as anti-racist educators, to first and foremost, name it. Not just the ideological structures that underpin it, but the everyday, seemingly mundane enactments of racism that are ever present in our educational spaces.  

Breaking the cycle of silence is the first step to making change.

But where do these conversations need to start and how can they meaningfully translate into action?

In my work, particularly with schools, I find it helpful to start with developing a shared language and basic racial literacy. It is important to meet school leaders where they are, and some are more racially literate than others. You cannot name something you do not have the language for and so it is important that the concepts of racism and Whiteness are understood before any action- focussed conversations can begin.

It is easier to advocate for change with evidence, rather than concepts that can seem abstract (particularly to those who are already resistant), and so alongside developing a language around racism, we need to start with naming concrete effects of racism and then work our way back to understanding the root causes. The impact, before the intent.

It is important to break the silence and challenge the denial of the damaging effects of racism on individuals, families, and communities as well as the impact on the learning and working environment. Racism impacts visibly on educational outcomes, on school and community relations, on student behaviour and on staff experiences. Once some racial literacy has been established, you then have a lens by which a school can start to look at its data and school culture more critically.

I honestly believe equity work in schools is always contextual and no two schools are the same. It is important to empower school leaders to have the courage to look inwardly with a critical eye, so that they can identify and name the damaging effects of racism as it appears specifically in their school. For some schools, the indicators of racism may be as explicit as racist graffiti, hostility between groups, racist language etc. But for many schools, the indicators of racism that require a level of racial literacy to name and understand are often discriminatory practices that may include low educational expectations for some groups, disproportionate behaviour sanctions for some groups, and non- inclusive curricula that deny certain groups access to knowledges that reflect their lived experiences, to name a few. It is particularly difficult to identify and name these seemingly hidden, systemic effects of racism in majority White schools that have very few ethnic minority students and staff. Therefore, developing an understanding of Whiteness is an essential part of the racial literacy work that needs to happen.

Although meaningful change requires courageous and committed leadership, every member of the school community needs to develop racial literacy in order to be able to ‘name it’. It is essential that all staff, teaching and non-teaching, are able to recognise racism and its effects on the whole school community. Just as the importance of trauma informed whole schools are now being recognised, we must also recognise that racism does not just take place in the classroom that that change requires a whole school response.

Schools may differ in how they choose to engage parents, communities and young people in these discussions, but it is important that these discussions take place. Consulting with parents and community members (particularly from racialised and minority groups) can lead to increased engagement and stronger home-school partnerships as parents begin to feel more confident in the safety of their children. Having a shared language and developing a common purpose and drive, fosters a stronger community within and outside the school, ensuring change is sustainable and meaningful.

The silence and denial of racism permeates at all levels within and outside of the school and so our work must be to name it, to understand it, and to challenge it. These conversations need be driven by leadership but need to happen across the school community.  So some questions for us to consider:

  • What are the silences and denials within our schools?
  • How do we develop racial literacy amongst school leaders that are for most of our schools racialised as White?
  • How can we develop whole school approaches to racial equity work?

Goal Setting During Convid19

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the impact of this crisis on how we think about and imagine the future. It’s hard to think about anything but the present moment when we are surrounded by so much uncertainty within and outside of our homes. And it is important for us to be present, to be in this moment, to pause and just be. We live in a society that has conditioned us to believe that our lives must be busy in order to be productive and meaningful. We have taken so much for granted and we now find ourselves in a position to reflect on some of these practices and change those that have been unhealthy or damaging.

This is an opportunity for us to set ourselves some new goals and new habits.

Goal setting does not mean a focus solely on the future and re-entering patterns of socialised productivity (it’s not about filling your time or being ‘busy’). It is about digging deep and really thinking about what is important to us, in and beyond this moment. We have to be hopeful, and goal setting allows us to really think about what we want to take with us and who we want to be when (God willing) this crisis ends, and if we are fortunate enough to live to see it. Setting goals allows us to keep moving in a purposeful way, whilst still being present in the here and now.

Whether the goals you want to set are related to work/ study, and/or are personal, it is really important to first sit and reflect on goals you have set in the past and to be honest with yourself as you reflect on why those goals/targets were not reached. Focus on the things that were within your control in these situations, e.g. do you lose motivation quickly, do you set goals that are too big and then struggle to recover from failure, do you set goals based on external expectations (not what you want) and give up when that external expectation is no longer there? However long you need to spend doing this reflective work, spend it. You need to be able to recognise what your limiting beliefs and practices are so that can you identify when they creep up and build the skills to tackle them along the way. I spend at least a couple of coaching sessions with my clients just focussing on values, core beliefs, and past practices (positive and negative) before we even begin setting new goals.

Below are a list of tips/suggestions you might consider as you set new goals.

  1. Take baby steps– It is important to set small goals alongside your bigger goals (e.g. if your goal sis to lose 10kg in weight overall, set yourself a goal to lose 2-3kg a week, or if you have a 10,000 word assignment that you need to complete in two months, give yourself a goal of writing 2000 words a week). A focus solely on the main/ larger goal can feel overwhelming or out of reach and it is easier to lose your motivation if something feels like it’ll take a long time to get to.
  2. Set realistic goals– Think about what you can realistically achieve based on what your life looks like right now, do not imagine different scenarios. If you work, have children, and also study, be realistic about the time that is available to you and what you can do in that time without it being detrimental to other aspects of your life. Setting goals that are realistic and attainable, can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because it reduces the likelihood of failure.
  3. Keep your plate organised– Think about the things in your life that you do to just ‘fill time’, these things are clutter. Think about what you can remove in order to make time and space for your goals. Think carefully about time and avoid taking too much on to overcompensate for what you think is ‘free time’.
  4. Keep what you want to do– Lead your life based on your values. Set goals that are important to YOU and keep the practices in your life that give you joy and purpose. Do not remove things that do not fall under the social category of ‘productivity’ if these activities make you happy. You must trust yourself and trust in the decisions you make.
  5. Believe in yourself– It’s cliché I know, but it’s cliché for a reason. If you don’t believe you can achieve something, the goals you set will be meaningless. Take a moment to recognise the things you have already achieved (however small they may seem). Self- belief feeds your determination to accomplish your goals.
  6. Don’t go all in– It’s easy to set new goals and throw ourselves completely into it, but moderation and balance are key. Putting all your energy into a single thing may mean you burn out. Do not starve yourselves of everything else you have in life and do not try to put all your energy into your goals and then in addition try to keep up with the everyday demands of life. You risk failing at multiple things at the same time and this can really damage your self- esteem. Pace yourself, give yourself a break when you need it and be kind to yourself at all times.
  7. Reward yourself– This is important. Whatever your goal is, remember there is a time to be proud. Take moments along the journey to reflect on your achievement so far and give yourself treats along the way. This builds your confidence and motivation to keep on the right path. Be careful with what you reward yourself with so that you are not creating new conditioned thoughts that are negative. E.g. if you are trying to lose weight, do not reward yourself with food. You can have cheat meals as part of your routine, but don’t make that your reward. If food that is unhealthy becomes your reward, you associate healthy food with negativity, and it is difficult to then maintain it as a lifestyle.

I hope you find these tips helpful! If you have any other tips you think may be helpful, please share them in the comment section below! 🙂

To be Black and Muslim….

I find few spaces to talk about what it means to be Black and Muslim and Hijabi as well as what it means to be a Black Muslim woman, and when I try and speak about these dilemmas in public, I immediately find myself pushed to the periphery in supposedly ‘safe’ spaces.

Black is not a marker of identity many Africans I know would readily accept, and as someone who is from a country that is majority Muslim; with Arab and Asian cultural influences (as well as Euro-Colonial), I have always found it difficult to find my place in Black British identification.

I have memories of being told my features were not ‘Black enough’, my hair was not Black enough, my food was not Black enough. My earliest encounters with ‘race’ not being with White people, but with people that looked like me, in skin tone anyway.

I went to an extremely diverse primary and secondary school, and spent most of my childhood, trying to be what I was told was ‘Black’. I begged my mother to ‘relax’ my hair because the ‘Black’ girls in my class had; even though I wore a scarf, and no one would see. I changed the way I spoke and felt self-conscious speaking in my mother-tongue with my siblings in public, becoming acutely aware of how similar the Somali language sounds to Arabic.

When I could not reconcile my need to feel a sense of belonging with my Black peers and my unwillingness to compromise my love of culture and faith, I began to resent my skin. I felt mocked in spaces with people that looked like me; remaining invisible when I did not speak and hyper-visible when I did.

Into adulthood, those spaces remain unchanged. Now, also encountering Whiteness and Islamophobia simultaneously, there are even fewer safe spaces. The childhood jibes about my inauthentic Blackness, are now performed rhetoric within the ‘Black academic’ community. I am again, in spaces with people that look like me (in skin anyway), who are Islamophobic in ways that penetrate deeper than I’ve ever known.

It is no longer about whether or not I look ‘Black’ but rather how far removed I must be from the ‘Black experience’ because of supposed ‘Islamic colonialism’ (a leading Black academic referred to it as such). When I try and share the contributions of Islam throughout history to the present day, I find myself defending my faith in ‘Black spaces’; seemly stepping outside of my skin and becoming an outsider trying to convince ‘them’ that Islam is not synonymous with ‘bad’. Now I am not naïve to history but even as I write this, I am resisting the urge to over-explain. I find myself having to make clear that faith in the Black community does not just mean Christianity, African spiritualism or an atheism. The three biggest African communities in Britain; Nigerians, Ghanaians and Somalis are no strangers to Islam… and yet very few Black spaces, acknowledge this.

And it is not just in the ‘Black’ spaces where my identities are challenged. The Muslim community is presented as monolithic. To be Muslim means to be Arab or South Asian and although influences in the Somali culture mean that even for the less religiously inclined, there are indistinguishable crossovers between culture and faith, it is in the every practices between Muslims that Anti-Blackness is most evident.

As a Black Muslim woman I know I must simultaneously navigate the various stereotypes that are held about Black people and of Muslims in this society. And I know that I must also contend with the multitude of issues both of these communities have within and towards one another. There is Islamophobia in the Black community and there is Anti-Blackness in the Muslim community.

I have grown into my skin and have learnt to separate it from a rhetoric that tells me, my Blackness has been polluted. I am my mother hue, marked by the red Earth that coats the shores of Africa’s horn. My Blackness is ancestral, and its nomadic roots are given strength by all that is has embraced along the way. Islam has been a part of Somalia for thousands of years; it is a part of me.

But my experience of being a Black Muslim in the public sphere, has been to be either Black or Muslim, rarely afforded the space to be both.

I reflect on this quote and I’m reminded that we don’t lose the parts us that people simply refuse to see….

“I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” -Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man)

Telling stories differently (PART 3)

So I was given the task of writing. But writing is never an easy process and the stories of these young men, shaped my approach to writing and my understanding of silence.

You see so much of what was included was silence, as an act of resistance. The young men chose stories to share, but they also spoke about the stories that they withheld, stories meant to be share between friends, between them I am, in coffee shops, on the corners of the streets. Stories that they felt the academy did not deserve to hear. And they fractured their stories, told it in pieces, made connections as we spoke, but left gaps, sometimes deliberately.

We worked with these silences; these gaps, by turn the gaze from the stories to theory. I pulled on theory to speak back to the academy through these silences.

Writing is a political act… it is a process of choice, of negotiation, of power and of silence. I concluded my thesis with this poem that captures the tensions of trying to create decolonising spaces for stories, and then writing these stories within the very spaces they seek to challenge.

I am not a writer…

My tangled thoughts creep in silence,
Quietly contemplating what ought to be,
And I wake to see this world through different eyes,
Telling the story of each mornings light,
But, I am not a writer.

I breathe heavy at the thought of staining the page,
Stuttering through stages of hope and rage,
Pieces of me captured on a stage,
Exposed and elated by this coming of age,
And I, I am not a writer.

These euphoric moments of holding a pen,
Are followed by shudders and shards,
Like shattered glass we can never be whole,
Like gaps between words we can never be told.
I…am not a writer.

Our histories were stolen,
Our languages lost,
The earth was your canvas,
And our blood was the art,
We have not forgotten,
We carry this pain,
Our lives have been written with the blood of those slayed,
So I am not a writer.

This pen is a symbol,
Not of words but of wars,
Of pain we have lived through,
Pain you adore.
Our histories made romantic,
Our psyche enigmatic,
Our stories told by you,
Are chilling and yet static,
So I…am not a writer.

And yet, I read your words,

As you continue to write me,
Hold me in ivory spaces

Only few can reach,
And I have been taught your theories of me,
Read tales of my toils,
As you pierced through my heart and used my blood as ink,
Every movement of that poisoned pen, causes me to ache.
You have been the writer, and you have held the words.

But your pen cannot carry the weight of all that I hold,
You cannot know the stories I have yet to tell.
So why must I breathe underwater?
Pushed down by lead pens that continue write me,
Why must I close my eyes to love myself?
Knowing that I can build with words that were once broken,
Knowing that I can teach myself to love again.

Some write because they cannot speak,
Caged by language or by walls,
But I write to write myself anew,
To see words on a page, not as stains but of starts,
I write to be hopeful,
Piecing together shattered glass, to find the stories in the cracks,
I write, not to make myself whole, but to write myself home.

I write… but I am not a writer.

Telling stories differently (PART 2)

As I began to write these stories into my thesis, I realised that the terms had changed yet again. You see, academic writing often creates a paternalistic structure that excludes the groups of people who are often the topic of discussion.

I did not want to write in a way that excluded them but they knew as well as I did that this thesis would need to be structured for a purpose and for an audience… they were interested in how their stories would be relayed back to the community, not written in a thesis, and not written for the academy. That was a burden I had to carry.

I wanted to do research, to share stories that could exist within the academy, with the hope that they may change the way in which the academy viewed different types of knowledges. These young men gifted me with their stories… but as I began to write their stories in, I felt myself writing their stories out, pulling them apart, and then choosing the pieces that fit best with theory to write back in… I fell into colonial spillage and I could feel myself silencing them and their stories…. so I had to stop writing.

I deleted 15,000 words from my thesis, opened up my research diary and wrote these words “to tell different stories, we must be willing to tell stories differently”.

I wanted to give their stories centre stage. The words of Lorde, hooks, Morrison and many other Black feminist writers rang in my ear and I thought to myself ‘our stories cannot remain at the margins, we must write ourselves in’.

As I began to write more freely, I decided that each young man would be given a chapter in the thesis dedicated solely to his story and I made the decision to not theorise their stories but instead to analyse the broader themes that emerged. I found myself doubting the credibility of what I what I was producing. Surely stories alone cannot have academic rigour, surely they mustn’t stand alone. I found myself re-reading Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”  

Spivak discusses “subaltern” or marginalized people as unable to acquire agency or an identity that dominant groups recognize. Their voices cannot be heard since they lack the knowledge of Western thinking. To overcome this, those subaltern must become intimately familiar with the reasoning, language, and philosophies of Western intellectuals… or remain at the margins.

I fought the urge to theorise their experiences, and realised in my hesitation that it was not so much that the subaltern, lacked the ability to speak… but rather Western intellectuals’ lack the ability to hear different stories.

Frantz Fanon (1963), psychologist, scholar and activist states that “decolonization never takes place unnoticed” (p. 36). It makes a spectacle of colonial violence and Indigenous peoples’ resistance to it. In the same vein, the stories we hear command the attention of the academy; and in ways that begin from familiar sites of personal pain and dislocation, to historical and intellectual erasure, and institutional violence.  The stories of these young men could not remain at the margins. They could not be spoken about, only spoken to.

These stories don’t simply ask but demand that we conceptualize decolonization in terms that take on both material and discursive definitions. Honor Ford-Smith (1987) asserts that, “The storytelling tradition contains what is most poetically true about our struggles. The tales are one place where the most subversive elements of our history can be safely lodged…” (p. 3).

While dominant scholarship might push aside methods such as autoethnography or storytelling as not rigorous enough or as ‘identity politics’, the experiences of those who live out decolonization are integral to grounding the decolonial movement to the material realities of the people whose lives bear the scars of colonialism, scars that remain hidden and silenced within the academy.

There is a reason that many of the decolonial movements around the globe have been sustained by poets, musicians, and artists. This extends into the academy where we, as authors and where many of our readers, engage. These knowledges that we share through our stories, subvert and re-create what the Western academy puts forward as valid ways of knowing.

Smith, Burke & Ward (2000) state, “Indigenous societies before Contact were both dynamic and flexible, possessing a creative strand that both then and now repeatedly generates new variants of cultural practices and… transforms the cultural structure itself” (p. 9).

In this way, stories as Indigenous knowledge work to not only regenerate Indigenous traditions and knowledge production, but also work against the colonial epistemic frame to subvert and recreate possibilities and spaces for resistance.

Telling stories differently (PART 1)

Can you hear me?

Will you listen when I talk?

Will you write the words I choose to say?

And will you say the words I choose to write?

Do you hear me?

Tell me … why?

Why should I speak to you?

Why should tell you my story?

Gift it to you in different ways

Each time hoping you would honour it

Watch as you unwrap, tear, distort, repackage and re-gift it… yet again.

Erasing the messages, I have left for you

Watch…

As you gain status for retelling MY story

While I…. I am left with one less story to tell.

This is a story about stories.

October 2013 and I am sat in a room with four young Somali men, Ahmed, Faisal, Mustafa and Mohammed.  Young men I have been supporting for two years up to this point as a community youth worker. I had just received ethical approval from my university and I am eager to speak with these young men about my research. I would be looking at identity and belonging… topics that they have raised with me on a number of occasions. Topics I have heard being discussed in the cafes and on the corners of the street countless times. Topics we discuss with our families. We are a diaspora community, questions about belonging and identity are in the fabric of our everyday lives. And I knew these young men, or so I thought. I had developed a trusting relationship with them over the years, or so I thought. So surely, like me, they would leap at the opportunity to share their stories… or so I thought.

I didn’t receive the response I was anticipating… Silence. They just looked at me.. as if I was different. As if I had suddenly become a stranger.

“Why?” Mohammed asked me “Why do you want us to do this research?”

I paused, “…because it is an opportunity to share your stories, if you would like to”

“But we do, we share them every day… with you and with each other” said Ahmed, “so why do it in this research?”

I felt more scrutinised in that moment then in any supervision meeting leading up to this point.

“Because your stories matter to me, and I want to do research that matters”

“…ok” Ahmed responded, and the young men got up to leave.

I realised what I asking, and being asked in that moment. I reflected on the Linda Tuhiwai- Smith’s (1999) ‘Decolonising Methodologies’ book I had read just a few days earlier, and realised I was the ‘insider/ outsider researcher’ she spoke of. Familiarity didn’t help in that moment, it didn’t matter how long they had known me, my affiliation with the university and my role now as a researcher was enough for them to question my intentions.

Why should they tell me their stories? Who was I to even ask? I should have known better. Research has always been a ‘dirty’ word in our community. ‘Tell us your story’ is a phrase we often hear from researchers who stay just long enough to mispronounce our names … I should have known better.

I took a few days away to think about alternative research topics, determined to leave this behind… but something drew me back to belonging and stories and something pulled me back to these young men. I wrestled with the countless other research methods I could have used, and why each one just didn’t quite feel right.

A few days later Ahmed called and said and that he and the other young men, wanted to meet again.

“Listen, we do want to do the research with you Muna, but will you let us choose how we tell our stories” Mustafa said

“OK” I responded.

We sat down and designed the research together. I set the themes ‘identities’ and ‘belonging’…and they chose the method. They would construct artefacts and we would return together in a fortnight to have individual reflective conversations about the artefacts and their stories. Conversations were important to them because they had all been ‘interviewed’ before and this time, they wanted to decide what and how they would share.

Mora and Diaz (2004), argue that participatory forms of research are a means to challenge the often contradictory goals between the university and the community, the hierarchical relation of power that privileges academic over local knowledges. If I was going to do research that mattered, I needed their help to set the terms… all the terms.

They would be the architects of their own stories…. but these stories didn’t stand alone, so we talked about my place in the research. I remained an insider/outsider researching, often holding a space in- between that carried with it the weight of two worlds. A space, that over time I had to learn to navigate. I had stories too, stories that at times felt worlds apart from theirs, and at times painfully close. They shared their stories and asked me to share mine… after all, this research would need to be a conversation.

Linda Tuhiwai- Smith (1999) states “When Indigenous peoples become the researchers and not merely the researched, the activity of research is transformed. Questions are framed differently, priorities are ranked differently, problems are defined differently, and people participate on different terms” (p. 193).

They were a part of the research now, beyond simply participating… it mattered to them too.

The research became about much more than collecting stories. In telling our stories, theirs and mine we found connection and understanding in words and silences…. And the silences were often just as, if not more important.

Mustafa spoke of the power of stories to change perception. “You don’t know me, really know me, until I tell you who I am” Mustafa reflected… “If I tell you my story, I’m telling you who I am. You just have to listen”.

For Faisal the power lay in silence “I feel like now that I can tell my story, I can also choose not to, and which stories don’t need to be told…not now anyway… and I like that… having the choice”.

(Audre Lorde (1985) in her beautiful essay ‘poetry is not a luxury’ explains that “as we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny, and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us” (Lorde, 1985).

Mora,J.A., & Diaz,D.R. (Eds.). (2004). Latino social policy: participatory research model. Binghamton, NY:Haworth.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai, (1999). Decolonizing methodologies:research and indigenous peoples. NY: Zed books.