May El-Abdallah

For her contribution to equity and inclusion

Empowering Others through Art

May el Abdallah has a full time membership in the non-profit sector. That is, besides her full time job.

In addition to working in insurance law in a small law firm, May also sits on the Education Committee of the legal Education and Action Fund and chairs ArtReach – an organization that provides funding and capacity building for youth artists.

She had just moved to Toronto from Ottawa when she saw a call-out for a volunteer position within the grants review team for a pilot program – ArtReach. One whose mandate is to provide funding to youth-led quality art experiences.

Once in, May became so enamoured with the concept that she couldn’t leave… Not even during law school or while preparing for her bar exam.

To her, ArtReach grounds her in reality while she builds a career in law. Just as it grounds young people, she says, and allows for them to build their capacity and skills, all the while meeting other young people and working collaboratively.

To May, ArtReach allows for helping others while helping oneself. It allows for space that is rarely provided in the mainstream media and exposes the voices barely heard in mainstream art spaces.

“There’s a lot of fear around speaking out about who you are and where you’re from, usually passed on from parents to their children. But it’s very important to take advantage of the opportunities to speak for oneself. Otherwise, others would do it on our behalf”.

She talks about, for instance, AqsaZine, a publication supported by ArtReach, which is by and for young Muslim women.  AqsaZine covers everything from issues of identity to community to politics to art, to poetry and family. It provides young Muslim women with a small-though-important forum to express themselves when they couldn’t elsewhere.

The Arab Community Law Association is yet another community May has joined, one that builds numerous networks within the Arab community, and which furthers equity within Canada. In the past, she worked with the South Asian Legal Clinic’s Forced Marriage Project, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and the HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario.

And when not working directly with local communities in Toronto, May educates herself about others elsewhere. One documentary she’s recently seen and recommends is the one she watched last summer at TIFF – “Beats of the Antonov” (dir. Hajooj Kuka) – which explores the role of music in sustaining communities both culturally and spiritually during an on-going conflict.