How I Made It

Talisha Ramsaroop, Community Planner & Advocate

Talisha Ramaroop is a Toronto-base advocate for Toronto’s Jane and Finch community. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Talisha Ramsaroop; @taliishar

How do you describe your job to your family?

Most of my family don’t actually know what I do, they think I just protest a lot. I’ve had a couple of jobs and jumped all over the place, but I’ve always been very passionate about fighting for equity for people who live in marginalized communities.

Right now, I’m a community projects coordinator at York University, where I help people from marginalized communities access post-secondary education. I also do a lot of organizing work after hours.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I have an undergraduate degree and a masters degree in sociology from York.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

My very first job out of university was as a program coordinator at PEACH (Promoting Education and Community Health), which does very frontline community work in Toronto’s Jane and Finch community—a really resilient, racially diverse neighbourhood in north Toronto. In that position I introduced young people connected to the criminal justice system with the restorative justice system.

What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever done solely for money?

I worked at Rainforest Café during my first year of university. I wore a safari suit and I had to yell “volcano!!!” whenever someone ordered a certain desert.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

The one thing that got me started in my current career path was networking and mentorship. When I started university I was an English major and I was good at English. But through my sociology professor, I got connected with ACT for Youth—a project that supported positive youth development. As a researcher for the program, I looked at data about the inequalities that young people living in the Jane and Finch community experience, and I got really passionate about it.

I worked with that professor for about three years. I was able to quit the Rainforest Café, and I switched my major to sociology because I realized that I wanted to go into social work. That’s why my first gig out of school was in my field, because I already had gained some experience.

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

Because I ended up working with that sociology professor for a really long time, I stopped networking. I didn’t take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities I had when I was younger, and now I’m not as comfortable with networking as a lot of people are.

I have also realized that I don’t publicize my achievements enough. I’ve done speaking engagements—like my Ted Talk, “The Violence of Low Expectations,” which talks about how the stigma attached to the Jane and Finch community can harm residents by limiting their potential—and I’ve won awards (like the Pam McConnell Award for Young Women in Leadership) but I have so much trouble with making people aware of what I’m doing. I even talked about making my own business cards for a long time before I finally did it.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Aside from taking advantage of networking opportunities, my best advice is to be willing to not be humble. It’s hard for me to say, “Oh, I did a Ted Talk.” My husband, on the other hand, is great at sharing his accomplishments, and a lot of the time he will also share mine when I’m too humble.

Step outside of your comfort zone and tell people the amazing things that you’ve done and what you’re capable of.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“You have a stable job, stay with it.” I’ve changed jobs a lot and each one was an opportunity to grow. Take advantage of new opportunities that come up, even if it means a little instability.

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

I love to read Rupi Kaur. She talks a lot about sisterhood and how it feels to be low and pick yourself up.

Who is your favourite person to follow on social media from your industry? What do you love about their social feeds?

Karlyn Percil is my inspiration on social media. She does a lot of work on building sisterhood and provides tools to set goals, connect with others and check in on yourself.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

In social work, especially on the frontlines, you do see a lot of representation and inclusivity. That changes at the management level. Even though social work is all about advocacy and inclusivity, there are boy’s clubs as well. We’re now seeing people in the Jane and Finch community in management positions; for a long time representation tended to be not reflective of the community.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

When I think of the people who do frontline work in the Jane and Finch community, it tends to be women. That’s great, but women also need to think about going higher. We have leadership capabilities, but we don’t necessarily see ourselves as a future city councillor, or future mayor.

There’s only one racialized woman on Toronto council right now. When you’re coming from a racialized community, you’re taught that you can’t take up space.

Have you ever asked for a raise? If so, how did you phrase it and did you get it? If not, why not?

I have not. I’ve always been like, “Oh, I’m only 25, I still have to learn, I’m younger, I need to be there longer.” I’ve always doubted myself in my mind. I’m afraid of being told “no,” and afraid of the awkwardness.

Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career?

 One of the things I’m really excited about is seeing how woke our future generations are. I can’t wait for those guys to get in the workforce, and I am so excited to work with then.

What worries you the most about your career?

I always worry about burnout especially in the current political climate. People have worked so hard to make changes in Ontario, and then all of their work is reversed in a few months. When youth programs are cut, I know that it will eventually lead to some deaths; people will pay the price. The thought of that makes me want to cry.

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