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.

My op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: why coming out still matters

Ellen Page, the Canadian actress and star of Juno, recently came out as gay. Since our society is obsessed with other people’s sexuality, the media exploded with this news. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) visibility is so important, but I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the amount of coverage she received. Why did people care so much about her sexuality?

It’s because coming out still matters.

We live in a heteronormative society in which opposite-sex attraction is seen as the norm. People are seen as straight until proven otherwise.

When I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, I spent countless hours crying in my bedroom and desperately searching the Internet for stories about people who were LGBTQ. These brave people – real or fictional – helped me realize I wasn’t alone and their experiences made a huge difference for me.

I could see myself in their stories. I could see myself in Page’s story.

There’s still so much stigma associated with being LGBTQ, and Page's coming out highlights the need for us to continue sharing our stories without any shame. You can check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen here and in the paper tomorrow.

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

When you have a few minutes, please watch Page’s speech. It’s beautiful, powerful, courageous and honest. Our stories can help people understand the world around us and help individuals know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

Page wanted to make a difference by telling her story. I hope I can do the same by continuing to share mine.

Let's talk about mental illness: how origami gave Curtis hope and purpose again (video)

I love hearing people’s stories. Stories can be a powerful way to foster understanding and connection. They can change our perspectives when we focus on our similarities instead of differences. We can see people and our own story through a new lens.

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, a national initiative aimed at raising funds, increasing awareness, reducing stigma and changing people’s behaviours and attitudes about mental illness. For every tweet, text, talk or Facebook share, Bell is donating 5¢ to various mental health initiatives.

I love telling people’s stories.

I work for a mental health organization that has given me the opportunity to film, write and share people’s stories. Many people have kindly let me into their world and opened up about their struggles with mental health issues.

Their stories have touched me deeply and opened my eyes to a variety of experiences. I’ve seen pain and heartache, but also hope, resiliency and creativity.

One of those amazing individuals is Curtis.

Meet Curtis. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Curtis is a talented artist who beams kindness and compassion. I was blown away by his talent with origami and how easily he created these beautiful animals and shapes out of paper. But this art form wasn't always part of his life. The onset of depression changed everything for Curtis eleven years ago.

“The first time I was depressed, it was sort of the darkest,” explains Curtis. “I didn’t know if I was going to get out of it. I had no purpose to do anything and I was wondering where all my purpose went.”

The unlikely source of origami, however, would be part of his road to hope and recovery.

“I didn’t see how it [origami] would become useful to me other than that little bit of joy it gave me, but over the years I've done more and more,” Curtis says.

Origami by Curtis.

There’s still so much stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and mental health issues. Understanding and change, however, can happen through dialogue and the power of people’s stories. Let's continue these conversations past today.

This is Curtis' story. What’s yours?

Give thanks: how to create a gratitude jar

My gratitude jar! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk) I've been meaning to make a gratitude jar for a long time and I finally got around to doing so. Crafts are so much fun!

Before I continue, some of you may be wondering what a gratitude jar is. Well, I'll tell you! It's a jar where you can write down various moments, people, things, etc. that you're thankful for.

It's easy to get distracted by the busyness and stresses of life. In those moments, we may get overwhelmed and lose perspective. We may even lose ourselves, dwelling on difficult situations and/or inadequacies we see in our lives.

I don't believe many people recognize or believe their true worth and value. We're constantly desiring more or feeling as if we're never good enough.

Gratitude is a powerful way to change our perspective.

There's so much to be thankful for, and it often doesn't take much to appreciate the beauty, life and excitement around us. I'm constantly amazed by the little moments of life and awesome people who inspire me each day.

I could even make a gratitude jar filled of hilarious moments with my little cousins. They make me laugh and remind me it's the small things that really matter, from our ice cream adventures to writing a song together at Christmas. These are the instants I want to remember and fill my jar with.

December and January are often times of reflection, change and moving forward. I'm sure many of you have been thinking about this past year and creating some goals for 2014.

It's important to keep the big picture in mind, but I encourage you to appreciate the little moments and not let them slip through your hands. Hold onto those experiences and write them down because they can be really encouraging in the difficult times.

So let's get back to the gratitude jar. It's really easy to make! All you need is a jar, some ribbon, buttons, paper to write on and gratitude. My friend and I also put glitter in our jars, which obviously made life more fabulous!

Don't forget the glitter! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

(Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

What are you grateful for?