A Year of Ally Squared
From the perspective of Ally Squared's Executive Director, Uswah Ahsan
February 8, 2021 is Ally Squared’s first anniversary. As an organization whose existence has been marked by a global pandemic, this first year was nothing like I imagined it would be. In fact, I never imagined creating an organization at all.
In August 2019, I hit a wall. I was a year away from completing my degree and was experiencing an identity crisis that was years in the making. As a young Brown immigrant woman, my position in society made me feel like a walking contradiction of identities. Microaggressions and systemic racism were familiar faces despite my inability to identify them using terminology or process them effectively. In my chosen field of politics, being a young woman meant that I had to wear makeup to look older, speak louder so people would listen, and put up an emotional wall to gain respect. I wasn’t independently wealthy and I couldn’t afford to pay for my degree, so I took on loans and worked part-time jobs while maintaining a toxic relationship with consumerism to “fit in” with my wealthier friends. I felt weighed down by the assumptions made about my identity and I tried to conform to Westernness and Whiteness as a defence mechanism. In many ways, I could be categorized as a marginalized person. And yet, I had racial privilege compared to my Black and Indigenous peers because I held the Brown model minority status. I had geographic and citizenship privilege that afforded me access to a multitude of opportunities in this country. I wasn’t visibly Muslim, which made me religiously ambiguous and safe from Islamophobic violence. As a cis straight woman, my partner and I were safe walking down the streets together.
Society forced me to put myself in a binary categorization of oppression or privilege, but I knew that I experienced both at the same time. I didn’t have the language to communicate these feelings, but I found myself thinking a lot about allyship as a duality. I felt it important to redefine allyship as a verb, as something that you could need and practice simultaneously, as something that led to systemic and social change.
In November 2019, I scheduled seven meetings with youth in my social network who also felt this way. One by one, I proposed the idea of Ally Squared, a youth-led organization that would change the practice and definition of allyship. I spoke with Jack Joseph, my friend and partner, who was the first person to show me real allyship. I told my roommate Sumaya Sherif, a young law student who immediately asked me how she could help. I called up Yasmine Shah, my best friend who challenged me but was always in my corner. I took a walk with Raina Young, a friend who was tenacious and determined. I dm’ed Abarna Selvarajah, whose work for her Tamil community was remarkable. By December 2019, we were on a video call late Sunday night, developing a non-profit that would enable us to channel our frustrations at society into impactful action. We got a micro grant to host a launch event for 30 attendees in February 2020, and we ended up with 60+ participants.
A year later, I look back at the early days of Ally Squared and get emotional when thinking about how far we’ve come. Our team consists of youth from all over this land currently called Canada, with an array of lived experiences, educational backgrounds, social justice work, and a shared investment in active allyship. Most of us haven’t ever met each other in person and yet, our team meetings feel like a family dinner. We’ve proven to the world that leaders do not have to wear suits or attain multiple degrees to be effective. They don’t have to code switch or dim the light of their personalities. They can make mistakes and be open about learning and unlearning. They can share their emotions and talk about mental health. Their lived experiences and vulnerability are part of who they are. Their work is effective, valuable, and necessary. In so many ways, we’re the Non-Profit Industrial Complex’s nightmare.
In these past 12 months, our team has consulted for the United Nations Association of Canada, led trainings for over 300 university students, participated in panels, webinars, and podcasts, forged sustainable connections with First Nations, Métis, refugee and immigrant leaders, created and shared over 100 resources on equity and allyship, started a podcast that challenges you to do inner work, and built a practice of active allyship.
In this second year, we’re learning from our mistakes. We’re taking breaks, cutting ourselves slack, being intentional about community work, developing models for financial stability, and focusing our projects to meet specific goals. In 2021, you’re going to see a better Ally Squared, a stronger team, a bigger impact. We’re going to do this while staying true to who we are, by centring our lived experiences and the needs of our community.
I can’t wait to see us grow together. Even more, I can’t wait to live in a world where there is no need for allyship, because there are no inequities.
If you want to get in touch with Uswah, our Executive Director, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .