Real Talk on Race: Consequences of exclusion
Mahad Al Mustaqim turned to street gangs when he couldn't find employment
Real Talk on Race is CBC Montreal's special series exploring personal conversations and experiences around race in the city.
Mahad Al Mustaqim was 15 when he was arrested for the first time.
As a teenager, the Somali-Montrealer felt excluded by Quebec society, and said he felt he could not overcome the challenges of poverty and discrimination.
- 'Why on earth are you so dark?' Colourism and discrimination from within
- Quebec's police forces still overwhelmingly white
- 5 'Real Talk on Race' stories that got you talking on Facebook
- Fighting the pull of the street
Al Mustaqim and his nine siblings were raised by a single mother in Pierrefonds. He applied to multiple jobs to help support his family, but was repeatedly turned down for interviews.
"Once there was a gas station I applied to and when I called back he told me 'Some black dudes came and robbed the store' so I felt like I was kind of targeted,"Al Mustaqim told CBC's Homerun.
"At the moment it really hurt me — I was young."
'The consequences are hard'
Being young and vulnerable, Al Mustaqim said he fell under the spell of street gangs. He spent most of his youth in and out of jail.
"My first goal was to help my mother but you know it's a dirty game," Al Mustaqim said. "It's easy money and the consequences are hard."
He was arrested three times and while serving prison time in Ottawa, he realized he had to turn his life around and be a role model to his siblings.
"I was talking a lot to my mother and she started talking to me and I started listening to her because I had no nobody."
From gangs to youth worker
Al Mustaqim said many young people like him have been driven towards illegal activities because they felt excluded by Quebec society.
He now works with youth because of his experiences growing up as an immigrant that was not well integrated or accepted.
"People from the outside would never understand, it's only when you live inside that you see that," Al Mustaqim said.
Al Mustaqim focuses on preventing teenagers from being lured into street gangs, who he says prey on the vulnerable. He gives conferences in schools and even goes to homes by request of the parents who are worried about their children.
"It's a progressive work. You put a seed in the heart and you hope the seed grows in the heart."