My trip to Muskoka Lakes from Calgary, AB for YWCA Canada’s 2023 Think Big! Lead Now! Summit began with nervous anticipation. To be surrounded by emerging leaders from all over the country, attend workshops and seminars led by established leaders in various fields and industries—the thought of it was truthfully both elating and a bit daunting. In any case, my feelings energized me enough to get me to the airport by 5:00 a.m. In the airport lobby, lingering nervousness was quickly transmuted into excitement as friendships with other Calgary-based YWCA travelers began to blossom.
We took a shuttle bus from Pearson Airport; as we approached Sparrow Lake, I welcomed the transition from bustling city to the still frosted grounds of Ontario’s southern forest. My first thoughts were those of simple gratitude: beautiful scenery, cold outside but warmer than Calgary at that time of year. Upon arrival, I received the key to a quaint and charming cottage overlooking Sparrow Lake, which was still frozen over and had recent skate marks on the surface of the ice. My roommate and I made quick introductions before heading over to the main building for the official culmination of the event.
Throughout the conference we heard from panelists and speakers such as Jessica Gordon, Lisa Smith, and Honey Johnson who shared insights from their personal and career journeys. As a Cree woman, I found it particularly inspiring to hear from so many Indigenous leaders. I am always seeking guidance from First Nations people across the country as we continue to break colonially imposed generational cycles through hard work, advocacy, and community support. For those named above (and many others) to take time out of their lives to be present with us meant the world to me and prompted me to reflect on the leaders, past and present, who have made it possible to participate in a continual renewal of hope for social change still to come.
As somebody who tends to hide in the back in an attempt to go unnoticed at large events, this was a great opportunity to challenge myself to share stories and ask questions when invited to. I was able to practice my public speaking skills in a safe and welcoming environment, and I got some great film and book recommendations from one of the questions I asked (two of my favorites were the book 5 Little Indians by Michelle Good and the film 270 Years of Resistance directed by Alanis Obomsawin). My newfound friends even encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone by sharing a poem during open mic night—I participated alongside many other individuals who left me awestruck at their talent and courage.
My trip to the summit marked the first time I had returned to the Toronto area since sleeping on the downtown streets 2.5 years prior, where I found myself homeless due to addictions. My life has since undergone a complete transformation, and I am humbled to have gone from the depths of addiction to being invited to attend a conference as a leader among leaders. I shared parts of my story with the group and am full of so much love for every single person at the Summit who shared their stories with me in return. I admire the approach of YWCA Canada’s accessibility scholarships, which make it so that even those who have little money or material are able to attend. YWCA Canada’s Think Big! Lead Now! Leadership Summit was truly a worthwhile and inspirational event.
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