Humans of Downsview: Nathan Baya, the leader behind Jane Street Speaks

Nathan Baya is an active community member who is behind the initiative Jane Street Speaks – a platform that “provides local artists with an opportunity to express themselves and shine their light.” 

Nathan was born in Toronto and grew up in the Jane and Finch area. His parents immigrated to Canada from Congo; “I take great pride in my African routes and I’m happy I was born in the talented city of Toronto.”

When asked why he started Jane Street Speaks he shared that it’s because he struggled to get booked as a local artist. So he began putting on his own events to showcase his talent.

“I wanted to create a platform where I could provide the same opportunities for local artists from my neighborhood who struggled to get gigs as well.” 

The events he organizes are all about self-expression through art and using art as a way to heal from traumas experienced in life. “I either have events where I showcase specific local talents from the city or I put on an open mic where the community gets the opportunity to come sign up, perform and show the people what they got.”

Jane Street Speaks has been very successful at doing just that, however Nathan expresses that his biggest accomplishment is “not letting anything stop me. Life is not easy and not everyone is supportive of the path of being an artist. But, music and chasing my dreams is in my blood so I could never stop!” 

When I asked him what motivates him and how he finds the inspiration to continue being an artist, Nathan attributes this to his daughter. “I wanna be somebody that she can look up to when she starts chasing her dreams as motivation to never quit and always live in your truth.” 

Nathan’s initiative has been well received in the community, Jane Street Speaks puts together live performances,food and clothing drives for the homeless, workshops for youth and community events.

The work is necessary – Nathan shares,  “When people don’t get the opportunity to express themselves and heal from their traumas they suffer in silence. Why do that? We can come together as a community and heal from our traumas through the power of self expression.”

Nathan created a popular slogan that has been turned into t-shirts and other merchandise seen around Jane and Finch. The slogan: “Support Local Before Global ” is self-explanatory and reminds artists the only way to be global is through community support. It sums up the heart of his initiative. 

“I love this community it’s filled with so many talented individuals who are doing incredible power moves in the city of Toronto and who are changing the narrative everyday about members who come from the Jane and Finch/Downsview community.”

Catch Nathan’s next project titled “Journey to Fatherhood.” Follow @janestreetspeaks_ on instagram for more details. 

Humans of Downsview: Rabia Khokhar – educator, student, librarian, and writer

Rabia Khokhar is a Long Term Occasional Elementary Teacher in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My dad is always reminding people of when I was 4 years old and how I would come home from Kindergarten and play ‘teacher’ with my family members and stuffed toys.”

Rabia is proud to have helped create a library that resonates with the students.

She was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the Downsview area with her family when she was 6. Growing up Rabia spent many hours at the Downsview Public Library. She reflects, “it is such a vibrant and happening place! It has helped solidified my belief in the importance of public libraries for all members of a community. I remember in high school I volunteered for the Leading to Reading Program and wrote for the Scribbles newspaper for teens. I fondly remember hours of sitting, reading books and chatting with friends. Even to this day, every time I visit this library it feels like home.”

This love for libraries and community has turned into a lifelong passion for Rabia. As an educator and librarian, she is very proud to have a library that is the heart of her school’s community.

She explains, “[w]hen designing our library our goals were to have a social justice and equity lens and this meant we wanted to pay attention to the books, physical environment and learning opportunities for our students. We were very lucky to have funding to buy 200 new books for our students which showed diverse people and lived experiences. Our students were so excited to read and see these new books on display! We also wanted to have differentiated learning spaces for our students like a: technology zone, whole group, small group and independent spaces. We wanted our students to be part of creating their learning space, so we got them to help us make the signs and art in our library.”

The support from her Principal allowed for Rabia’s success in implementing their library program.

Rabia attributes part of the success in her library to the support she received from her Principal, “I think our library program was successful because of the support from my Principal who really supported all ideas and was excited about them. It is so important to have a vision of the library that aligns with the administrator’s because that really helps to move things forward.” 

When she is not working as a librarian and educator, Rabia is pursuing a Master’s in Education at York University. She expresses that this is one of her biggest accomplishments, as it complements the work she does during the day.

Some books that Rabia helped bring to the school.

“I know that a Master’s classroom is a very privileged space, but I think the real accomplishment will be if I am able to take this new learning and language of ‘access’ and ‘translate’ it to those around me whether that’s family, friends and my students.” She is inspired and guided by a quote from Rebecca John and aspires to live as such: 

“What did I know about oppression if I read about it in a classroom? Why was what I saw as a ‘revolutionary education’ distancing me from my family? I realized that there was no point in knowing the language of social justice if I couldn’t communicate with it to those closest to me”

Rabia paired her master’s education and work to write an article recently published by the Canadian School Libraries Journal. The article outlines Rabia’s school’s journey in designing a Library Learning Commons through an equity lens and what it can look like in one school community. It also discusses the important role of mentors for new teachers like her.

As if Librarian, Educator, and Master’s Student was not enough,  Rabia is also working on writing a small picture book. She explains: “As a visible Muslim woman a lot of students ask me ‘Ms.Khokhar what’s that on your head?’ so in some ways I am hoping the book addresses this question in a child friendly way.”

When she looks at the future, she would love to have a permanent teaching position as a teacher-librarian and become an equity coach or consultant. 

Read her article about equity and diverse representation here: 

Downsview students awarded ONE City Scholarship Award

It is graduation season and it is an honour to share that the ONE City Scholarship went to four young women who are full of promise. Two of the young women who were awarded are a part of the Downsview community and remind us of the brilliance seeded right here in our neighbourhood.

Bernadine Bartlette of Downsview Secondary and Tajeah Noble of C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate were standouts amongst 13 of the candidates from across Toronto that were shortlisted for the ONE City Scholarship. Bartlette and Noble, along with Yusra Habibiy of David and Mary Thomson Collegiate and Abinayaa Parameswaran of Forest Hill Collegiate, were awarded the $2,500 scholarship.

Taejah is a dynamic community-minded student and will be attending Guelph/Humber University to study Family and Social Services with a minor in Justice Studies. Her work as a mentor, a student leader and as a high-achieving academic have brought her high praise from her teachers. It is easy to see why she receives so much high praise especially when Taejah explains, “I must give credit to my barriers as they have shaped me as a person and influenced me to remove those similar obstacles for others in any way that I can.”

Bernadine is a determined student who is graduating from Downsview Secondary School and will be attending Sir Wilfred Laurier University in Kitchener to study Political Science. She has had moments in her life where she wanted to give up, but there is something inside her, a kind of bravery, that will not let her quit. As Bernadine would tell you, “It is an insult to the universe to believe you can predict all possible outcomes, and it’s an insult to yourself to give up on goals and aspirations because you don’t understand how it will happen.”

The ONE City Scholarship Fund is an initiative of TDSB educators and their community partners in support of remarkable students. Its mandate includes supporting students with scholarships and other supports, communicating with the broader Toronto community about the awesome potential of our youth, and letting our city’s youth, especially those from challenging backgrounds, know that they are to stay encouraged. 

Taking on the lens of a compassionate educator, the award was designed to support students that have excelled academically and demonstrate a commitment to their personal growth despite facing significant challenges in their daily life. When the minimum wage was scheduled to increase to $15/hour it was determined that a $2,500 award, which is distributed over a two-year period, would help students reclaim 100 hours of their school year. They could use those hours to focus on their studies or carve out much needed time for self-care.

More urgently, and in the context of cuts to student grants and loans which the current government has cut by $670-million, the scholarship is a measure of upholding the right to education by prioritizing equity seeking students in their post-secondary journey.

The Fund is administered by Toronto Foundation, a community foundation that enables the philanthropy of individuals, families and groups across the city. The ONE City Scholarship Fund is also supported by Toronto Foundation for Student Success and is led by educators.