10/09/2013 12:42 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Rania El Mugammar Mixes Sudanese Heritage With Feminist Values

Rania El Mugammar is a community organizer and facilitator with a background in gender studies and political science. She is the founder and current director of SpeakSudan. The group focuses on community building rooted in feminist values. It supports the youth of Toronto who hail from East Africa.

El Mugammar reflects with me on the youth of Toronto, and how she intends to contribute to the fabric of Toronto. She is determined to change the status of Toronto's newest immigrants by way of "feminist values and love for creative expression".

Rania -- Tell me about yourself?

I am a Sudanese-Canadian woman, a community organizer, writer, teacher, storyteller, facilitator, and the founder/director of SpeakSudan. I am deeply passionate about my community and a capital F Feminist.

SpeakSudan has been busy with many projects this past year. Share with me the history of the group.

Our group was born out of a desire to organize our community in meaningful and positive ways to support our youth and to articulate the stories that shape our lives. Art and storytelling are at the center of our efforts as we find our community often negatively portrayed in the media, so there has to be a counter narrative. This counter narrative is made up of multidisciplinary arts that tell the many different stories in our community, which portray us in a more well-rounded way.

There are of course negative aspects of our community as we find ourselves rooted in poverty, on either side of a gun, failing out of school, and all the other struggles that the East African community goes through. We are not saying that these things are never a part of our community but we are saying there is more than that; there are stories of success and triumph too.

Our programming extends all the way from arts education and our magazine, to capacity building in the form of scholarship workshops and mentoring, job search skills and resume building, to hosting our popular discussions on topics such as gender, community organizing, race, racism, and more.

What are some of the projects SpeakSudan is involved in?

We have ongoing projects and programs such as: Roots- A series of arts education workshops such as creative writing, spoken word and more. We have held few roundtable discussions on many issues surrounding our community.

Arts Magazine- A beautiful magazine designed and filled with content by East African Youth. We had our first issue titled Putting Down Roots in March and the release event was fantastic, consisting of wonderful performers and attended by more than 350 community members. We are now accepting submissions from youth for the next issue, titled Warriors and Storytellers. We are also working on a project with Outburst and Truth and Dare -- a project titled Illuminate -- it consists of poetry workshops for Muslim women as well as a moving art gallery.

The group defines itself as having a principle of "loyalty to feminist values and love for creative expression". Please explain?

This statement is at the heart of SpeakSudan. Our team, volunteers, interns, and advisory committee all adhere to these values. Feminist values mean that the organization supports all members of the community and actively opposes colorism/shadism, ableism, racism, religious discrimination, sexism, homophobia and discrimination based on social and financial status as well as level of education which there can be a lot of in our community. We believe that being rooted in the arts allows our community to express themselves in ways that are healing, empowering and fulfilling.

What are some of the challenges of the Sudanese Canadian youth in the GTA?

Some of the challenges facing Sudanese-Canadian Youth in the GTA, and all East African youth in fact are issue of discrimination and ideas about our communities that are not necessarily true, or at least the entire truth. We find that our youth are struggling to create a fair image of themselves and those in their communities. We are also inheriting the problems of our parents' generation and we have to develop our own politics and opinions about our experiences and especially our understanding of conflict back home.

We are challenged in doing that without disrespecting our elders and ancestors. We are however entrusted with the responsibility of peace building and unpacking some of the issues we brought with us across the ocean. Our youth are also struggling with having one foot in each world, with reconciling our Canadian identity with our African one, Canadian values with our religious, spiritual and cultural traditions.

Where do you envision SpeakSudan to be in the next decade?

I am fortunate to work with an extraordinary team of Warriors and Storytellers who are deeply dedicated to the organization and the community. We see ourselves in a position to better support our youth and our entire community through both physical and emotional spaces to grow. We hope to launch programs and after school programs to provide academic support, arts education, sports and activities.

We also hope to be able to provide youth in our community with academic scholarships and further employment services. We see ourselves taking up space in the Canadian cultural landscape.