How are you using your voice for change?

"Giving voice" was the theme of last night's Soup Ottawa, a recurring micro-grant participatory dinner event. For $10, attendees got some delicious soup (thanks Daily Grind!) and a vote to choose the project that inspired them the most. It was great to hear many creative and interesting projects that would benefit people in the community. Presenters were passionate about helping others speak their voices and stories, and fill gaps they saw missing in their communities. The winner of the night, Jaime Koebel for her Indigenous Walking Tours, was definitely a well-deserved recipient.

Last night made me think about the importance of stepping up in our communities and encouraging others to use their voices, which often starts with speaking our own.

Some friends who signed me up for my first open mic.

Before I started perform spoken word poetry, I was petrified of being vulnerable and sharing my story. I didn’t know who I was or what my true voice sounded like. I was afraid people wouldn't accept me.

I also didn’t want to be scored for my poems, which is a defining feature of slam poetry where five random audience members score you on a scale of 0 to 10. However, a few of my good friends told me my voice was missing and I was bringing something different to the scene. 

Those words have stuck with me in everything I do.

Many of us see issues or absences in our communities, but few of us are willing to risk and step up. Maybe we believe other people will do it, or perhaps we’re afraid of failure and not being good enough. These are legitimate thoughts and fears.

However, the alternative of risking and failing is doing nothing. It’s scary to step out of our comfort zone, but we may discover new passions and potential we had no idea existed.

Our stories and voices have so much power.

I’ve learned so many new things about myself and other people by risking and realizing the impact I could have in my communities. It has been scary, exciting, overwhelming, vulnerable and incredible all at the same time.

It has been exciting to be a different voice in my communities and realize my voice mattered. It has also been encouraging to have others believe in my dreams, passions and vision for change.

Last month, I received the first Tontine Award, a new micro-grant in Ottawa that encourages women in the arts. I was very honoured to be the inaugural recipient, and I’m excited to offer free spoken word workshops for individuals in my community.

Some of the amazing women behind the Tontine Awards. (Brier Dodge/Metroland Media

People have believed in my voice and I want to do the same for others.

I love facilitating spoken word workshops and giving people the space to write, reflect, create and share their stories. It's amazing to see people discover their potential and recognize the power of their voices when someone simply believes in them.

Think about YOUR communities, YOUR passions and what YOU can bring to the table. It doesn’t have to be big and remember that change doesn’t happen over night. Those little steps of courage matter and each one of us has so much to offer those around us – even if we don’t realize it quite yet.

For more information about the Tontine Awards, please check out their website here. This is an important initiative to support the creativity, talent and vibrancy of women in Ottawa, as well as engaging people and building community through the arts. The upcoming deadline is on March 10, 2014.

Your voice may be missing from your community, so don't be afraid to step up and use your voice for change.