You may have heard the saying “build it and they will come” and if you ask Sobia Ali-Faisal, she’ll likely say that’s exactly what has been happening with her foundational work with BIPOC-USHR (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour United for Strength Home Relationships).
“When I was growing up on PEI, there weren’t any supports or services for people like me and I always wished there was. Now, we are building this community for ourselves so that we can support each other.”
Based on core values of compassion, care, cooperation and community, Sobia leads BIPOC-USHR through anti-racism and decolonizing work toward social justice for BIPOC communities on PEI. Together, they are building the home they want and need.
“It’s all about the people around me,” she says. “They are passionate and dedicated and we are collectively working and healing toward the social change we need in our society.”
Sobia earned a PhD and she spent time lecturing, teaching, and conducting research at the University of Prince Edward Island before turning her attention full time to BIPOC-USHR, where she is now the Executive Director.
While 2020 is remembered as the year the COVID-19 pandemic started, it was also a year that brought wide-spread attention to the civil and social unrest throughout our society due to racism and discrimination. In the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020, BIPOC folks and allies rallied together. There was a Black Lives Matter walk held in Charlottetown and it catalyzed the work that Sobia and others were already engaged in.
“We saw that more people were paying attention to the issues that impact the BIPOC community and we wanted to keep that momentum going so we worked tirelessly in the months to come to formalize our group.”
Now a not-for-profit organization, BIPOC-USHR’s roots are in community mobilization.
“It was a slow start, and we took as much time as we needed to build together. At the beginning and until recently, we were all volunteers so we didn’t push people to do more than we could.
“I’m optimistic and passionate, and perhaps most of all, I’m stubborn. If I see a need or a gap, I do what I can to fill it.”
Along with her endless advocacy and activism, Sobia endeavors to get out of her head and into her artistic self as much as possible. She enjoys art, sketching and dance. As a life-long learner, she appreciates learning new ways to express herself and to move her body.
“It is a beautifully powerful feeling when we can move our bodies intentionally in the ways that we want to. It makes me feel grounded, centered, strong, and powerful. It’s about being at home in our bodies.”
Both in work and life, Sobia describes herself as a Jack-of-all-trades: “I’m finding myself interested in dabbling in more abstract art and playing with a variety of colours to explore their vibrance. I have learned a lot about faces through my sketching practice and I want to explore other art forms to connect with other parts of myself as well.”
Sobia talks about her learning journey to this point and reiterates that though we do all carry personal responsibility to use our power and privilege in ways that do not suppress others and that encourages their sovereignty and autonomy, we also need to remember that we cannot do it all and we cannot do it alone. “It has been my spirituality that has allowed me to stay grounded and keep working through difficult and painful things. It also helps me know where my responsibility lies and where it is out of my hands.”
The work can be lonely and challenging and Sobia credits the BIPOC community for their ongoing and unwavering support. “Even in those times when I feel alone, if I reach out and say, ‘hey, I’m scared, this is hard, and I need help,’ my community is there to support me.”
Sobia works across most systems and sectors on PEI to support members of the BIPOC community. “COVID has really become secondary to our day-to-day needs as we support folks through difficulties in housing, employment, education, immigration, and so on. We are working hard to understand the ways all these systems work together and how we can support ourselves and each other to operate within these structures that were not built for us.”
Though a lot of Sobia’s time and energy is spent doing the heavy lifting of challenging systemic racism and the impacts that has on individuals and communities, she reminds us to also keep it light when we can: “We all laugh and have so much fun together. Humour really is a life saver.”