Amirah Oyesegun: Radical love, community and justice
'When you're vulnerable with your community, your community loves you more'
CBC is highlighting Black people in Atlantic Canada who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future.
Last fall, members of the public submitted over 350 nominations for 161 Black leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs and artists from across the East Coast.
A panel of Black community members in Atlantic Canada selected 20 people to highlight for CBC Black Changemakers. This is Amirah Oyesegun's story.
Amirah Oyesegun is busy.
They work in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion office at UPEI. They are a registered dietitian. They're the vice president of the board of BIPOC USHR — a group that advocates for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. And they have a regular column about food and nutrition on CBC P.E.I.'s Island Morning.
Oyesegun also spends a lot of time thinking about community and creating the change they want to see in the world.
"I perceive myself as part of a larger system and so in my actions and the things that I do, I don't centre on just myself. I think, 'How is this going to benefit people within my community? How is this going to help all of us as a collective?'" they said.
"What is an ideal world that I want to live in, and how do we get there from where we are right now? What are those tiny little steps that we can take to get to an ideal world where people have housing, people have food, people have access to appropriate healthcare?"
Oyesegun was nominated by Sobia Ali-Faisal, the executive director of BIPOC USHR. She said Oyesegun puts radical love for community at the centre of both their personal and professional lives, adding that their "accomplishments and audacity far surpass their years."
"Their knowledge, their integrity, always wanting to do right by people. And act in ways that don't harm other people. That really impresses me about Amirah."
And it all begins with food.
Finding purpose in food
"When I was little, the only thing that made me happy was food. And my life has always been very food-centred," they said.
"When I started at UPEI in my first year, I didn't have a major declared. I was just doing whatever. And then I saw a brochure talking about dietetics and being a dietitian and what dietitians do. And it was honestly the first time I had heard about dietetics and I was like, 'Oh my God, this sounds so interesting.'"
That's when Oyesegun realized food and nutrition were where they belonged.
Oyesegun looks at nutrition through a broad lens, arguing that food — and access to culturally relevant food — is inextricably linked to things like access to health care and housing.
"That is my biggest priority as a dietitian ... because when we think of dietetics as a field, dietetics is like most things, it is heavily colonial," they said.
When you're vulnerable with your community, your community loves you more.- Amirah Oyesegun
"Food is so many things for so many people, so we're thinking of Indigenous cultures across the globe. Food was a way for us to connect, food is a way for us to build relationships.... Even when we think of cooking food, there was so much beauty and so much more associated even in the process of making the food together as a family."
Leading through vulnerability
Oyesegun has been open about being diagnosed with clinical depression, and how it forced them to learn how to ask for help.
"I was stuck in a rut ... I wasn't myself anymore and I was just really struggling," they said.
"At first people came to me without me asking for help. People showed that we want to help you, and we're here for you. And when that happened, it made me so much more comfortable with asking for help and just even, I think there was also a vulnerability that needed to happen and needed to let people know that, you know what? I'm not okay."
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They now realize that being vulnerable can make people better leaders.
"When we're all vulnerable with each other, we're able to understand each other and you're able to love more when you're vulnerable," they said.
"When you're vulnerable with your community, your community loves you more ... [and] you love them more. You create some sort of a bond, and I think that's really important when it comes to community organizing."
Love, community, justice
Oyesegun is currently working on community nutrition education projects, and using social media to get their message across.
"Gen Z, we're always on social media, we're always on our phone. If you want to get something out to that demographic, social media is a really great way to get that out there."
When it comes to words to live by, Oyesegun doesn't hesitate.
"Love is the biggest one. And community, and justice ... and also anti-oppression," they said.
"I think all those things in ways are heavily intertwined with each other. Because love for community also means that there's justice within our communities, right? And there's equity in our communities ... Anti-oppression is a big one that I live by with my daily actions and my daily interactions. Because a lot of the systems that we live in have been created on oppression. I try to think of how to be anti-oppressive in all the things that I do in my day-to-day."
With files from Natalie Dobbin