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Qadira Jackson Is Using Her Powerful Voice To Benefit Others

Qadira Jackson is a noted community leader and lawyer based in Toronto. The vivid volunteer, who is predicted to be a certain future judge or elected official by most, including myself, is on a crusade to be of use to many leading causes. Whether it's helping the youth in priority neighbourhoods, being active in political causes or using her education to benefit others, Jackson is one citizen on a mission.

You are a noted lawyer and activist in the community. Please tell me about yourself?

I went to York University for my undergrads. First I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, then a specialized honours degree in Social Work, then a Post graduate Certificate in Dispute Resolution. Through the social work program I participated in two practicum; one at the Children's Aid Society of Toronto (CAS) and the other at the Woman Abuse council of Toronto (WACT).

Before you became a lawyer, you were a noted social worker in the community, working with at risk youth in the Jane and Finch area. Tell me about that?

I didn't intend to be a lawyer. I was a social worker. I worked in schools, group homes, and open custody detention centres. Before entering law school I was working as a social worker at St. Charles Garnier catholic elementary school. I loved my job. I worked alongside the teacher in a Grade 7 class with two behaviourally challenged boys. It was a very rewarding position.

I was torn between the idea of becoming a lawyer or continuing social work. In fact I applied for both my masters in social work and law. I received an offer for both programs and decided to go to law school. When I told the teachers in the school that I was leaving to go to law school one of them said "No. You can't be a're too nice." To which I replied, "Well isn't that more reason to be one?

The truth is, I didn't know what a lawyer really was. All I knew was what I saw on television. I saw dramatic court cases and interrogating witnesses etc. I think I was the least likely person to become a lawyer. I didn't know anyone in law, not even a law clerk or articling student. What I did know though, was that lawyers are able to help people on a higher level. I was always an advocate but being a legal advocate seemed appealing and more rewarding. As a social worker, you are mostly in a position to empower people, while as a lawyer you can truly advocate.

I can tell you the exact moment actually when I decided to go to law school. It was in 2005 when I was at Old City Hall in my role as Intake Officer for the Partner Abuse Program under WACT. I was walking the hall after enrolling abusive men who pleaded guilty, into the Partner Abuse Program when I had a premonition of myself walking the halls but not as a social worker, as a lawyer. When I think about it, I tended to find social work positions that touched on court somehow; I also attended court many times while at Children's Aid.

You were an active member of the Black Law Students association and now you have continued that involvement with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. Share with me some of the work you have done at both and also why these organizations are still important.

I've always felt the need to reach out and give back whether a student, social worker or lawyer. That is why I was VP of the Caribbean Students Association during undergrad, VP Central of the Black Law Students' Association of Canada during law school and am currently Director of Community Liaison with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

In addition to these roles, I was very active in law school. I participated in LEAP (Law Enforcement Accountability Project), Police Training Working Group, FLIC (Family Law Information Center), Student Volunteer, Friends Aiding International Relief, Vice President & Treasurer, Our Children Africa (NGO-Ghana), Fundraising Committee, Faculty of Law Admissions, Admissions (File Reader), "Style by Jury" Charity Fashion Show, Participant & Committee Member, and was invited to attend the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Tell me about Black Pearls

I joined Black Pearls in 2009 after I found out about the good they did in the community. Black Pearls is a not for profit organization that empowers and educates young women. Through my role as Director of Development, I have had the opportunity to continue working with youth. As an organization, we deliver programs to youth. The youth seem to enjoy our non-conventional approach. We talk about our stories. The struggles we've had. The obstacles we've faced. How we overcame these obstacles. The path we took to become the professionals we currently are.

We also teach them life skill such as: how to communicate, anti-bullying, cyber bullying, relational aggression, healthy relationships, body image and more. The interactive approach makes it easy for youth to participate. They like the non-authoritative structure. We also donate Prom dresses to students in priority neighborhoods under the Fairy God Mother project and donate hair care products and appliances to those who need them.

You are also a leader in many leading organizations in the community.

I am currently a board member of the Urban Financial Services Coalition, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and a political riding Association. As a board member I enjoy brain storming and hearing different perspectives and different views. I enjoy advocating on behalf of the issues that matter most to the organization. I enjoy grass roots activism. People think I'm crazy to be involved in so many organizations but I can't imagine it any other way.

You are a member of the Equity Advisory Group for the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC)

As a member of the Equity Advisory Group for the Law Society of Upper Canada, we are in a position to advise the Equity Advisory committee on issues of concern in the legal community. This is important to me to make sure that all types of voices are heard. The LSUC needs to hear the voice of female lawyers, racialized lawyers and sole practitioners.

I was happy to participate because I fall in all three of those categories. As a group we are able to network and align with different groups/associations of lawyers and share ideas and learn new perspectives. We have discussed important issues affecting articling students, women, the LGBT community, Racialized lawyers, paralegals, etc. EAG is so important to me because it provides a platform for different perspectives to be heard, and for change to happen.

Where do you want to be in the next decade?

Many people ask me where I want to be in 10 years. I see myself in a role where I can influence others. I see myself in a role where I can stand up for what's right.

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