Bending and Breathing

Ausma Malik becomes Atkinson’s Director of Social Engagement on May 16th, 2016. She will be responsible for facilitating engagement with key stakeholders – online and offline.

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long,” advised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “but it bends toward justice.”

The words of Dr. King mean so much to so many. In my own commitment and work to build a more just world, these words have given me reassurance and perspective. When things have looked bleak, these words have restored my sense of agency, and my belief in my capability to do something worthwhile.

Organizer and activist Kofi Hope took my reflections deeper at a national event last year. The arc bends that way because it is pushed, he said, by people before us, those who come after us, and all of us right here and now.

I have spent most of my life organizing, advocating and helping create coalitions that make change and support communities toward a world of social and economic justice.

My parents immigrated from Pakistan more than forty years ago, and made Canada their home. It has always been my home — and they made sure that I knew it, felt it and believed it. They taught my siblings and me that our values and faith are only realized through positive action. We were taught to serve by directing ourselves to work with others for fairness and justice for all.

Their commitment to building inclusive community, nurturing friendships and caring about people — whether it was in the neighbourhood or at the mosque — are qualities that define who I am and what I do.

In heated dinner table conversations — which often turn political — there is a running joke in our family that I’m always on the side of the underdog. “Everyone’s lawyer,” my mother calls me. It’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I am that way because I was brought up to honour people’s stories, to listen for their life experiences and to know that everyone deserves a chance to do better and be better. No one deserves to be ignored, marginalized and forgotten.

What I have realized — as so many activists and organizers before me have — is that none of us can do our work alone. My experiences and roles in the student movement on equity issues and accessible education, in labour organizing for fairness for working people, in international development work with women at the front lines of the HIV/AIDS crisis through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in education as a Trustee of the Toronto District School Board, and in all aspects of electoral politics, policy research and activism have shaped this point of view. What I know for sure today is that creating meaningful relationships is at the core of how change is made, and power is shifted.

Now imagine walking into a place where the mission of economic and social justice is not just a goal but is literally written on the door. A place where you’ll find others who believe philanthropy is more about the power of people than the power of money. That is the Atkinson Foundation.

The Foundation is driven by the legacy of newspaperman Joseph Atkinson who believed in the power of relationships — between a journalist and reader, between media and the masses — to change attitudes and push ideas that could make a more equitable society.

75 years later, his work continues. That’s why I’m honoured to become a part of it. To get behind changemakers we know and — more importantly — to find those we don’t. We want to support the most promising ideas and champion the people who are turning them into reality. That is why I’m excited to embark on a new chapter.

Together, we bend the arc.

Together, another world — a just and compassionate world — is possible. As author and activist Arundhati Roy said, “She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”

I want to hear her breathing through all of us.