Twenty-year-old Mustafa is a poet and a force of change. Through poetry, he expresses himself and shares his story, writing about poverty in Africa and his life in Toronto’s Regent Park, where he grew up and currently lives.
Proud of his humble roots, Mustafa hopes to show other youth how they too can draw inspiration from circumstances that others may perceive as obstacles.
Backstage at WE Day Toronto, we had the chance to talk to Mustafa about the obstacles he’s overcome on his journey to becoming a performer and the motivation fueling his passion for change.
Thanks for joining us! Why are you excited to be at WE Day? It’s an exhilarating experience. It allows you a chance to really come to grips with some of the work that you’re doing, and if you’re actually doing enough. The dramatic roar of the audience, that roar holds an expectation of you. And for me, when I come to WE Day, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for the faith-rush…to continue doing the work that I’m doing in the local communities and global communities. That’s why I came here as an audience member and why I’m back here to perform.
How does that feel, switching from being an audience member to a performer?
I’ll never forget being in the crowd when I was 14-years-old. I turned to my sister and said, “One day, I’m gonna be on this stage doing poetry.” No one was doing poetry. She laughed, but I was serious. I knew that it was gonna become something. Just watching it actually happen in real time, and watching my destiny manifest in real time, has really been a humbling experience, more than anything. Who are you most excited to be seeing?
Paula Abdul, she’s a legend. She’s literally a legend. I watched her growing up. I used to always contemplate… if I was going to become American and try to audition for American Idol. She was the motivation because she was nice to everyone.
Where does your inspiration from poetry come from?
From my community. I grew up in the first housing project in North America, Regent Park. It’s home. A lot was going on in the community, and I needed to write through it. It was a healing process more than anything. My older sister was very poetic before me, and I kind of took on after her… I was also inspired by writers.
What motivates you to share your story and experiences with the world? What keeps you motivated to keep on doing it?
No one else is going to be able to tell my story. I’m going to be the only one to really be able to express my narrative, and the only one who is going to be able to speak for my people. And if I don’t jot down, express, conceptualize, and complete the projects and ideas that are in my head, then I am erasing a navigation process to a kid that looks like me.
You mentioned speaking for your people. How have you been able to use your voice for others who feel like they don’t have one?
Well for one, I just got accepted to be a part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. So, being the only Ontario representative, it’s great for me because there are people who would not have been represented in that group had I not applied. That was like a big motivation piece for me, because I thought to myself… there wouldn’t have been that representation. Especially me having a very diverse experience, I could represent the Black community, I could represent the Muslim community, I could represent the immigrant experience, and I want to be able to do that. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but once you realize you can bear the weight, you are unstoppable.
“I grew up in the first housing project in North America, Regent Park. It’s home. A lot was going on in the community, and I needed to write through it. It was a healing process more than anything.”
What’s one key takeaway you want youth to learn from this WE Day? I want them to learn about themselves. If WE Day allows for them to do one thing, it is to care. This is a gathering of people who care about the world. The one problem with the millennials is that we’re passive—passive to a lot of the issues. If they can care and not be passive, that’s the most wonderful thing. On any level, at any capacity in their local communities, or global communities, it’s going to be those small love projects combined that are going to be most effective.
What does Living WE mean to you?
Living WE means respecting everyone’s experience. Even when diving into work, being able to respect it enough to not take the power out of some of the work that other people are doing. For instance, if you are trying to delve into Indigenous studies, remembering that you are there as a student first, and you are not trying to steal the narrative or the work that has already been done for centuries. It’s all about partnership; it’s all about learning from the people.