Make Your Mark: Meet the Writer who sought to change the world around her, one community story at a time
I have always been a problem solver at heart. Shaped by adversity, I've come up forging battles that inherently challenged sexism, misogyny, heterosexism and anti-Blackness. My voice, lovingly referred to as my big mouth, has allowed me to speak up and out for justice and create change for myself and those around me. I do not take the position lightly. As a sociologist, writer and poet, I began Community Development out of the necessity to feel connected to the spaces in which I lived. Like Toni Morrison once said, "Write the books you want to read", I began creating the spaces within which I wished to live. I became a Community Developer early on in my career (before many had even started using the term in Peel) to solve problems of access and inclusion for people living in the communities where I lived, worked and served.
In 2007, I returned to Malton, an enclave of Mississauga. After being in "the City", which became increasingly more expensive to rent in, let alone buy, we felt pushed back towards the suburbs and with that, I looked around and saw the area had developed little socially or economically within the past 15 years. Coming home, as nostalgic as it was, moved me to action as I tried to find a group of like-minded women, facing the challenges of raising children in a community setting that was engaged, connected and activist. I looked for women willing to create what we didn't see. I looked for a tribe and found none. So, I created my own. 10 years ago, while pregnant with my fourth child, a soon-to-be preemie boy, I approached an acquaintance at a Region of Peel prenatal nutrition group and Malton Moms was born.
I looked for a tribe and found none. So, I created my own.10 years ago, Malton Moms was born.
Yes, Malton Moms was my brainchild, but it was so much more than that. With the help of Camar Cameron, my co-founder, my sister, Tiffany Perryman Lyttle, a midwife and Nadine Ruby, a local health promoter, we championed the idea of Malton Moms to a community agency that brought together over 250 women and their families on and offline. Our first meet-up at the splashpad in the centre of the neighbourhood was spread by word of mouth. We met with more than 30 moms and 60 kids, and we knew then we had something. We hosted a slew of community events such as the Creative Cafe, an 18-month creative public arts and education workshop series that allowed mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids aged 0-16 to learn a creative trade (such as photography, painting, writing, yoga and dance) each week, sponsored by United Way and Peel Region. Gaining the support and encouragement of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and other local agencies and groups, such as The Malton Community Building Project, really opened it up and solidified my role as a Community Leader. The problem itself, one of isolation, lack of resources and connection, began to be solved. Malton Moms began speaking out on issues that mattered to its core members and branched out: social issues, local politics and speaking to the media solidified our group as one of the voices of Malton. We were an organic multicultural group - with Indigenous, South Asian, Caribbean women, led by a collective of Black women working in health, social service and city government.
Given my penchant for solving problems, meeting with people and writing on issues of inclusion, I ran for office, when our ward had once again been abandoned by Councillors seeking to step-stone to larger public offices. Not one to mince words, running for office for me was not about political aspirations, but to bring the people's voice to the table. I came forward to Make My Mark, which became my campaign slogan. You can never take the heart of this community from me.
"Not one to mince words, running for office for me was not about political aspirations but to bring the people's voice to the table. I came forward to Make My Mark, which became my campaign slogan. You can never take the heart of this community from me".
My Herstory for Canada 150 has been about using the gift of language, to teach, inspire, mobilize and challenge. My current project is writing the quintessential anti-racist primer for Canadians and Americans alike, tentatively titled, Catalyst: Antioppression 101, and its sequel, Equity is for Everyone, under contract to Conclusio Press. My publisher is Kerry Ann Haye Donowa and the encouragement and support for this much needed work was phenomenal. There is something very important about being supported and mentored by someone who reflects your story as well.
While I may seem to be a socialite with legions of friends and fans in both high and low places, my work lies in being a Community Connector who seeks to engage and empower people through the commonalities of their experiences and their stories.
For me, Making My Mark has been about that innate desire to leave an impression on the caves of my generation. Nothing matters more than the dignity and equity for all persons and their right to live without oppression in this place we share with our First Nations brothers and sisters. As a Black woman, it is my responsibility to call out, the writing on the wall if you will, the shared space of struggle that Black people and First Nations people occupy in this land called Canada.
For me, Making My Mark has been about that innate desire to leave an impression on the caves of my generation. Nothing matters more to me than dignity and equity for all persons and their right to live without oppression, malice or fear in this place we have shared this long with our First Nations brothers and sisters. As a Black woman, it is my responsibility to call out, the writing on the wall if you will, the shared space of struggle that Black people and First Nations people occupy in this land called Canada. My role now, as a Writer, Activist and Community Developer, particularly in Canada's 150th year, is to craft and cultivate space for healing, renewal and revisioning for a Canada that is inclusive. Given what is taking place across the border and to the shock of some, (though not mine) also happening here at home, we vigilantly need to address racism and its cronies (classism, homophobia, misogyny, ageism and ableism) and show them the door out of this nationspace that we collectively call Home.
"We vigilantly need to address racism and its cronies (classism, homophobia, misogyny, ageism and ableism) and show them the door out of this nationspace that we collectively call Home."
So, what's next for me?: The Book, The Blog and The Body of Beauty!
As a very social speaker and writer, the next steps include for me the completion and tour of my book (hello, Indigo!) , the expansion of my blog, Wordsmith, and a series of Body Confidence Workshops called Hello, Gorgeous! where I offer live tutorials in stores across Canada that teach women to embrace their personal beauty and style at any age, style, or size. I'll do all this while I continue to stay happily married, raise four of the best people ever, taking care of my Elders and look for a lakefront home in this here Canada to call my own.
Crystal Mark has been working as a social justice writer and community developer for over 15 years.