Yusra Osman: Leading the way for Anti-Racism in Ottawa
In November 2019, Council committed to the development of an Anti-Racism Secretariat, to ensure the City’s continued commitment to confronting and addressing systemic racism in Ottawa.
Yusra Osman, Anti-Racism Specialist with Community and Social Services, was hired to develop the City’s first Anti-Racism Strategy and support anti-racism initiatives throughout the organization.
Yusra started her first day with the City this week, on July 13, and as this is a new position, we sat down with Yusra to find out more about her, the work she’s doing and how employees can engage with the Anti-Racism Secretariat.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I am a Black Canadian anti-racist educator, registered social worker, mental health counsellor, and researcher. I have a Master of Social Work degree from Carleton University. I grew up in Ottawa and spent my high school years in the Washington DC area. I am a proud member of the Somali Canadian community and I enjoy reading sci-fi novels, creating art, spending time with family and being in nature.
Your role is new at the City, can you tell me what you will be doing in this role?
In my new role I will support the structural and systemic change that seeks to build a City that is more equitable and inclusive for all. I will be helping to develop the work of the Anti-Racism Secretariat, and to bring the voices of diverse Ottawa residents to the table to shape a substantive Anti-Racism Strategy. My goal is to help apply a race equity lens to the City’s programs, services, and policies to ensure that Indigenous, Black and racialized community members have the opportunity to experience a City that serves them fully.
What are you most interested in about this position?
I am most interested in the opportunity to collaborate with people from so many backgrounds to come up with innovative ways to fight racism in our community. I am interested in the opportunity to build a more just and inclusive city for all—and to work on policies that can help to mitigate the traumatic effects of racism and discrimination on the lives, and mental and physical health, of Indigenous, Black and racialized communities. I am also looking forward to building on the important work already being put in place through City of Ottawa’s Women and Gender Equity Strategy and the Municipal Reconciliation Action Plan, and coordinating our approaches to service delivery and policy review, awareness and education, and representation at all levels of the City.
What are you currently working on?
I am researching best practices and developing an approach to creating an anti-racism advisory table that represents the breadth and variety of Ottawa communities. I am also working on a Public Engagement Strategy that will engage residents and help set the priorities for the Anti-Racism Strategy. This engagement strategy will ensure that we hear from residents directly, applying an equity and inclusion lens to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.
What else should staff know about the Anti-Racism Strategy?
The Anti-Racism Strategy will implement anti-racism measures based on concrete approaches, including the collection of race-based data, rigorous consultation with Ottawa communities, and the application of anti-oppressive, intersectional, and anti-racist theoretical and methodological lenses to the work that we are doing.
What is something that is important for all City staff to know about systemic racism and inequality in Ottawa?
As a mental health professional and social worker, I have seen time and again the extent to which racism is a mental and physical health issue that weighs heavily on the lives of Indigenous, Black and racialized Ottawa residents. Racism is not only reflected in the major incidents we hear about—it is also the accumulated traumas of dehumanizing comments or experiences that pile up over a lifetime. When we hear the experiences of racialized Ottawa residents—we have to listen and act.
I’m really encouraged by the creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat and the steps we are taking towards an Anti-Racism Strategy. I am looking forward to collaborating meaningfully across the City on this important work.
How can staff get involved and learn more about the Anti-Racism in Ottawa?
One of the first engagement opportunities will be the Anti-Racism in Ottawa Public Listening Forum hosted by United for All Coalition, in collaboration with the City of Ottawa.
The virtual public forum will take place on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 1 to 3 pm, using the Zoom virtual platform.
The virtual forum is intended to share a quick overview of the anti-racism work to date, listen to black and racialized communities sharing their lived experiences, including the disproportionate impact of COVID on racialized communities, and identify innovative and effective strategies to address racial inequities using an intersectional lens as we collectively move forward.
Kudos to Councillor Rawlson King for this singular achievement. Editor
Tweet by Mayor Jim Watson
In our 2020 Budget, the City of Ottawa committed funding for a full-time Anti-Racism Specialist position and the development of a corporate Anti-Racism Strategy. The work of the Secretariat will add an anti-racism lens to the City’s Strategic Plan and policies – and it will build on previous work done to address racial inequity and systemic racism. As you know, at its meeting on July 10, City Council approved the nomination of Councillor King as the Councillor Liaison for Anti-Racism and Ethnocultural Relations Initiatives for the 2018 to 2022 Term of Council.
Ms. Osman is a Black Canadian anti-racist educator, registered social worker, mental health counsellor, and researcher – and she holds a Master of Social Work degree from Carleton University. Her work in Ottawa begins with a deep recognition of Algonquin Anishinabeg presence and nationhood, and the importance of solidarity between Indigenous and other racialized communities. Her experience includes working as a frontline social worker and counsellor, and she led community-based research on anti-racism and trauma-informed practice in various communities. She also designed and delivers the advanced top-rated course “Racialization and Social Work” in Carleton University’s School of Social Work. Ms. Osman is an experienced trainer on anti-racist frontline work, anti-Black racism, and Black community health.
We are thrilled to have Ms. Osman on our team, and we look forward to collaborating with her on this important issue.
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