As a student in high-school, Wali looked for a way to fit in to the societal norms of masculinity. The pressures of growing up as a young man with the wrong male role models in his life, left him feeling alone and socially isolated. Coming from an immigrant, South Asian, and Muslim background only made things tougher. Wali needed a hero to look up to, but only saw misrepresentations of people who looked like him, in the media. Wali needed an outlet, but one that was financially accessible, because money was always tight. Coupled with high family expectations, Wali grew anxious and depressed. He noticed that many other young people also struggled with these same challenges, and that they dealt with these issues by unfortunately adding pain to their existing trauma: some turned to smoking, drinking or drugs, and others sadly took their own lives. Wali wanted to feel better and wanted to find his own ways of managing the challenges that plagued him.
Wali was one of the lucky ones. His path led him to people who cared. Outside of school, he found social workers from a youth agency in Mississauga, who spent time with young people like him. They talked about life, school and music. Wali learned about the art of spoken word poetry through a book given to him by Ms. Riley, his grade 11 English teacher. Poetry spoke to him. Not only as an outlet for his struggles with mental wellness, but as an avenue for social change, and as a resource that was widely accessible to youth from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.
This introduction to the written word gave him his first impetus to break free. His teachers Ms. Riley and Ms. McIntosh encouraged him to stay in school, to express who he is, and to develop his talent. Wali used his anxiety to create, and his fears and doubts to inspire. As a spoken-word artist and poet, he now reaches out to other young people. They recognize themselves in Wali’s words and stories. He has found a passion that drives him and gives him a sense of worth. Now he wants to help others find their own passion, and share their story.