For those who don’t know your story, can you share a little bit about yourself?
I’m Sydney and I’m 27. I’m a first generation Canadian and proud Montrealer, although I’ve been living in Toronto for over three years. I moved to Toronto to do my Masters in Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Since then, I’ve been involved in the gender space and social sector, looking at applying intersectional and equity lenses to our work to support people in Canada and around the world. I’m the Director of Programs and Projects at YWCA Canada. I’ve worked as a mentor for Apathy is Boring in their rise program and for the Youth Policy Hub at the Ontario Council for International Cooperation. I’m the Vice Chair of the Board at Spring Tide Resources, and we provide capacity building for the gender-based violence sector, specifically women and people who identify as women in Ontario. Outside of that, I love to learn about our histories, what brought us to our work, and what we’re passionate about. That’s how I started to build a community in Toronto: by connecting with people and finding out what makes them excited about their work.
What advice do you have for youth who haven’t found their passion yet?
I’m fortunate to come from a family with social justice activism roots. On one side, I had grandparents who grew up in WW2, and on the other side, grandparents who were going through independence movements in the West Indies. I’ve been going to protests since I was really young. It was something I was passionate about. For those of us who are from communities that are more vulnerable, I just want to see us thrive. That’s what got me passionate about issues related to gender.
Advice I have for young people is to not limit yourself to one passion. You can be passionate about many different things, and most of the time they’re interrelated. We’re taking on a small part of a larger systemic change, which is reassuring. For youth who haven’t found their passion yet, I hope that you keep discovering it every single day. If you center yourself and engage in different experiences, you’ll definitely find what it is you’re passionate about.
(That’s a very fair point. You don’t need to do one thing. It’s really a perfect time to explore various different things.)
How do you stay motivated in your losses and grounded in your wins?
I’m really hard on myself, and it’s something I’m working on. Losses and failures can be challenging, but I love feedback and constructive criticism. I see them as ways to grow. I hope that I gain something out of every loss I experience. I think when you’re advocating for and working towards systemic change in social justice, it’s hard to see wins because the world you want to see seems far away. What pushes me forward is understanding that I’m contributing to a larger change or movement. It’s nice to think of my journey as a micro journey within a larger journey of systemic change. Those wins are a great contribution to that, but they’re also motivation to get the next one until we’re finally seeing the change we want to see.
What are your plans for the next five years? How do you see yourself in the next 5–10 years?
I’ve gotten to where I am by discovering what I don’t like or what I will tolerate. I can’t plan for five years because I keep discovering things that I either don’t like, and pivot, or that I love, and go down a path I never thought I would. I hope in the next 5–10 years, I continue to be open to that. I’ve been the most successful by taking opportunities when they come. I hope to keep that so I don’t get stuck in one place.
I hope in five years I’ll be more confident and assertive in what I want to accomplish. As someone who is racialized as a woman, I’ve been working hard on owning my power, but I’m not entirely there. I’d love to see myself taking up more space than I am now, and also making sure that people like me are taking up space so that I’m not alone. In ten years, I hope the world looks completely different. I hope that my work will be easier and that we have reached some milestones that we’re striving towards in the gender space. I hope that I have cool women around me doing meaningful work and taking on decision making in power roles within all sectors.
Is there one thing you want to improve in yourself or the world around you?
Something I’d like to improve on, and I think this is relevant for young people, especially POC, is overcoming imposter syndrome. I’ve changed and overcome a lot, but I still have that crippling feeling like “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not meant to be in certain spaces,” or “I’m not the right person to be speaking on certain issues.” I would love to work on that and build my inner strength. There are times, however, when I won’t be that person, and I can tap the shoulder of another incredible young person who’s doing amazing work. If I work on my own strength, I’m also working on my community strength.
There’s a ton of systemic change I’d love to see in the world. I’d love to see us be more understanding and tolerant of each other. What I see a lot in the social justice space is a tendency to attack people who have different views. This increases the divide. It’s part of the reason why change is so slow. We’re quick to attack people and shut down conversations. I’d like to see more understanding between people and more space for compromise. I think that’s how we’re going to find allies and accomplices and, ultimately, make the changes we need to see.