Leadership Identity Series with Fatima Lee Garsi

Fatima Lee Garsi is the founder and director of Sister Fit, a gym specializing in boxing and Muay Thai in Toronto. It is the first gym in North America that caters specifically to Muslim women.

In May, she announced a Leadership Identity Series - a project featuring female leaders from the Muslim community. When I saw her announcement, I proposed collaborating together by making portraits of the women she has chosen. For more information about Fatima's ongoing project, click here.  Check back in the coming weeks for new profiles of women leaders. 

I met Fatima through a mutual friend in late 2019. She was looking for business advice and I was happy to consult with her.

At around the same time, I was looking to expand my photography work to include portraiture. Because of her strong sense of style, I thought Fatima would be an ideal choice for me to work with to make my first official portrait. We had a great photo session and I think we were both happy with the results.

To introduce this project, how could I not include her as a person who, in Fatima's words, is "unafraid of standing out."

"I am interested in exploring the intersecting identities of faith, ethnicity and other unique attributes that influence successful Muslim women with a leadership role," she says.  

"I hope to share this work with the Muslim community to inspire, learn and connect Muslim women closer together in new and creative ways."

In 2018, Reem Ahmed was one of the top 12 competitors in the fifth season of MasterChef Canada. She was also the first Muslim-hijabi to be competing on the show. 

Reem says while being on the show was an incredible experience for her, it also had its downsides. Taping the show for the season meant being away from her son who was just a toddler at the time. Competitors have to give up contact with the outside world and connecting with family was limited to a phone call just once a week. 

Reem realized later that being away from her son was a factor in the  postpartum depression she suffered after finishing the show. Now, she freely shares her experience to help reduce the stigma of mental illness..

"When it comes to mental illness, you feel you are in a cloud and it's hard to explain and hard to admit...the first step for therapy is admitting the issue to yourself."

Dr. Fatimah Jackson-Best, a public health researcher who focuses on mental health, is the Project Manager for the Pathways to Care Project.

The project aims to "remove barriers and improve access to mental health and addiction services for Black children, youth and their families in Ontario." 

"I am a firm believer in people doing research that is close to their identities and that they can understand," says Jackson-Best, who holds a PhD from the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. "I think that it definitely brings a certain amount of nuance and understanding that is not necessarily possible for people from outside communities."

"The work that I do is about doing justice, doing right and making sure we're amplifying information that's good and helpful to communities."

"I'm an incredibly proud Carribean person...it's really central to who I am."

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