By Holly Hastings, July 21 2020—
Editor’s Note: Interviews were conducted via email. Content has been edited to reflect Canadian Press Style but the word choices and spelling of words that reflect the voice of the interviewee has been left largely unchanged.
Sparked by Black Lives Matter movements around the globe, Advocates Alberta is a non-profit advocacy group that is currently working with Calgary’s government leaders to defund the police and update education curriculums to include anti-racist programs. The Gauntlet interviewed the group’s leader, Dorsa Lena, to find out more about the organization’s goals.
The Gauntlet: Why did you create the Advocates Alberta group?
Dorsa Lena: After attending and speaking at the first few Black Lives Matter protests in Calgary, I was involved in founding another prominent advocacy group in Calgary, titled the United Black Peoples Allyship Movement, where I started to take an active role in disrupting and learning about racism in Canada.
I recently created Advocates Alberta as an organization dedicated to disrupting systematic oppression of the Black and Indigenous peoples of Canada, as well as other POC. I had the idea after discussing plans to present a proposal to defund the Calgary Police Service with my friend, Alex Eskandarkhah, who was working on a defunding project in Edmonton. I am currently working with him and his brother, who is also involved in activism in Edmonton, to finalize Advocates Alberta’s board of directors.
G: You met with the council on the 7th to ask for 16 per cent reallocation of funding. What was the outcome of this discourse?
DL: As I spoke, I could see every head in the council nodding. One of the city councillors thanked me for presenting the stark contrast between the funding for Calgary Police ($513 milion) versus community initiatives such as affordable housing ($19 million), and explicitly stated that it was definitely possible to defund the Calgary Police Service. From the feedback given that day, I am confident that there will be a partial defunding of CPS. I am currently in the process of following up with several city councillors over email, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi offered to sit down with us at Advocates Alberta to discuss plans moving forward.
G: How do these issues affect parents, students and even university students?
DL: This is such a big question, that can be answered in so many ways, but to put it simply: racism is alive and well in Alberta, and Calgary’s citizens are being affected every single day in more ways than you can imagine.
Another issue AA wants to address is the gaps in curriculum that do not fully portray Canada’s history, and the lack of BIPOC in leadership positions.
I can not speak on the experiences of Black and Indigenous individuals, although I can say as an example that living in a country where your ethnicity is not represented by your teachers, police officers and city representatives is damaging to one’s self-concept. Students from other cultural backgrounds are often ostracized, particularly in the K-12 school system, due to their teachers’ and peers’ learned implicit biases. Not to mention, Alberta’s Social Studies curriculum does not include any teaching on Canada’s hand in the slavery trade, and has limited teaching on Indigenous culture and history.
G: How would you want someone with influence in regards to public education to fix, or at least improve, our public education system?
DL: If you see something wrong, say something. Stand up. We also need more Black, Indigenous and POC leaders, teachers and administration in our education systems, which is a hiring decision that should be made by certain people. There should be mandatory anti-racism/anti-bias training done by every teacher K-12 as well as post-graduate. There are many things that cannot be addressed by the local education system, but rather, needs to be addressed at a provincial level, such as curriculum. This is one the things that Advocates Alberta strives to address.
G: You are a current student in the nursing faculty at the U of C. What does this career choice mean to you?
DL: It means everything to me. My mother Parivash Enghiad is a Registered Nurse, and has instilled in me (along with my father, who is a physician) a love for healthcare. I have been able to apply so much of my nursing knowledge into my activism, which I am grateful for. With a nursing education, I can make a real difference in people’s lives. I will be able to be on the frontlines, and possible in leadership positions where I can advocate for real change.
G: You are also a well-known Calgarian musician. How do you use your music to inspire others?
DL: I strive to empower my fans, by creating music based on real life experiences that people can relate to. I chose to use my real first and middle name as my stage name (Dorsa Lena), in order to show my fans my authentic self, and encourage them to also be proud of who they are, as they are. My music is all about empowerment, vulnerability, confidence, and love.
For example, I have made a song regarding the conversation you might have with depression, and what it might say if it could talk back. Songs like this decrease the stigma of talking about real issues, and puts it into an art form that people can feel.
Gauntlet: What would you say to people that disagree with the movement?
Lena: In most cases, people who disagree with these types of movements are not fully educated on what these movements are, or why they are necessary. This is why open and civil dialogue is necessary in order to ensure that the correct facts are being portrayed. For example, many people think defunding the police is an anti-police movement, but it is not, and in fact, defunding the police will save the police service money down the road. By addressing the root causes of crime as well, we will decrease crime in the city. Who would be against that?
Gauntlet: What are some of your groups’ future plans?
Lena: We have many things in the works, but I believe our next plan is to address the Calgary Board of Education as well as Alberta Education.
Gauntlet: Where can people find more information about Advocates Alberta?
Lena: You can follow our page on Instagram, @AdvocatesAlberta, or follow the facebook group “Advocates Alberta”