This is the sixth post in my series, Millennials Paving The Way, highlighting today's brightest Millennials who are empowering future generations to become change makers.
I spoke with Najwa Zebian, a Lebanese-Canadian educator and author about her book Mind Platter, the surge of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, and how to move from struggle to grace.
Zebian's passion for creative expression was evident from a young age as she delved into Arabic poetry and novels. She arrived to Canada at sixteen years of age and pursued higher education. In 2011, she became a teacher and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Educational Leadership as she works with the Thames Valley District School Board. She published her first book, Mind Platter, in January of 2016.
Congratulations on the release of your stunning book, Mind Platter. What can readers expect?
Thank you for your kind words. Mind Platter was written from my soul, from my struggle to find a voice and my struggle to define myself. It is written from my struggle to forgive myself for doubting myself when I was kind and got hurt. It is written from my struggle with power used wrongly, and from my struggle with not allowing all of the negative things out there that are tainting our humaneness to change who I am as a human. Mind Platter was my attempt at putting the broken pieces of my soul that I did not know were broken back together. It was my way to create a voice for myself.
Throughout Mind Platter, I encourage my readers to let go of the fear of feeling, expressing and speaking up. It contains about 200 one-page entries as reflections on different topics that we encounter in our everyday lives; love, friendship, hurt, inspiration, respect, wholeheartedness, motivation, integrity, honesty and more. Mind Platter is by no means confined to the words within it, but leaves the freedom of understanding to the reader's interpretation. I always say that I am not the sole owner of this book, but I share it with every person whose path crossed mine. Had my journey not have been what it was, with every story and every detail, I would not be the same person today. May this book give a voice to those who need one, be a crying shoulder for those who need someone to listen, and inspire those who need a reminder of the power that they have over their lives.
Your generation is passionate about giving back and understands that giving and selflessness are hallmarks of great leaders. Tell me about the volunteer or charity work you do.
I continue to be impressed and inspired by all of our youth who are taking initiative to effect change in the world. The work that I do does not compare to so much that is happening out there. When I first published Mind Platter three months ago, 100% of the proceeds over the first month went towards the Syrian Refugee Fund here in London. It raised $2300, thanks to the support of everyone who purchased it. Very soon, I intend to allocate a certain percentage of the profits towards subsidies for high school students to be involved in summer activities run by the City.
In addition to that, I continue to be involved in my community and provide support wherever needed. I have taken part in many initiatives aiming for the inclusion and integration of all members of society such as parent engagement educational symposiums and student voice events.
As I complete my Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership, I work with the public board of education as well as sit on a private school board to contribute towards a better education for all. My doctoral work aims at ensuring cultural relevance in our educational organizations from a leadership perspective. On my blog, I combine the theoretical knowldedge that I gain with classroom experiences and reflections that aim at building bridges amongst us all, and at re-conceptualizing education as more holistic than it is now.
Feedback is a powerful management tool. Between texts and tweets and posts, it is no giant leap to say Millennials are hungry for interaction and thirsty for acknowledgment. How important is receiving constant feedback to you? Does it make a strong impact on your performance?
Being a teacher, I know that the most effective feedback is specific and timely. I really enjoy reading the feedback that I receive when my readers tell me exactly how my words impacted them, for example, "you are helping me get back up after a breakup," "the last poem you wrote is making me change the way I see what trust truly means." One of the most powerful things to me about feedback is that it makes me realize that there is a community of people out there who have gone through the exact same feelings and struggles. That in itself motivates me to write more and to continue to openly express myself. It gives me a sense of what struggles are out there and what I need to address through my words. Nothing is more powerful than someone saying: "thank you for putting into words what I have been struggling for years to say." Once you realize the power of your words, there is no going back. You feel a sense of responsibility to continue offering the support and validation that you've already begun to offer.
I aim to reach as many people as possible. That way, more and more people can be part of this community of expression. I never aim to impress anyone, nor to gain a certain number of likes or comments. That purpose really could be detrimental to my work and my allegiance to be as raw and as authentic in my expression as I can possibly be.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, as of March, 76 percent of Millennials say immigrants strengthen the economy, up from 59 percent in early 2013. As an immigrant from Lebanon and given the current state of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media, how does this message resonate with you?
My parents met and started their family here in Canada, and after having five children, they decided to move to Lebanon so they could teach them Arabic. That's where I was born. I frequently visited Canada but never with the intention of fully residing here. Contrary to what many may believe, I was not happy to move here at all. I arrived here on my sixteenth birthday, and being visibly Muslim, I did face a few struggles. My experience was a little different from a any other newcomer's experience as I had was fully bilingual in English and Arabic. I was dealing with a culture that assumed that I had been here my whole life simply because I spoke the language with no accent. Reflecting on the change that I have been noticing in the public's perception of newcomers over the last ten years that I have been here, I can easily say that I have witnessed an increase in awareness and thirst to learn, especially in our new generation. As a teacher, I have had the pleasure to speak in many classrooms about the experience of being a newcomer, and students always meet those conversations with glaring eyes and increased appreciation of the similarities that hold us all together.
It makes me happy that the perception of the public towards newcomers has become more positive, assuming that being better for the economy implies proper integration and collaboration among all members of society. Regardless of anyone's impact on the economy, I hope that all human beings become more open to understanding of one another with compassion and focus on what unites us rather than what makes us different. I hope that we could all reach a point where we listen to understand, instead of listening to criticize or judge.
After reading your book, a key takeaway for me is that we all have within us the ability to move from struggle to grace. What advice would you give to your readers about bouncing back?
Where do I begin? My dear reader, you are the owner of your path. You are the master of your journey. You cannot control what life brings your way, but you have the power to control how you react to it. And if you react in the moment in the wrong way, that's okay. The best of us make mistakes. We fall. We learn. We get back up stronger. And we learn for the next time. Making mistakes makes you human. Feeling pain makes you human. Being heartbroken makes you human. And all of those pains are what make you color the masterpiece of who you are into a beautiful and unique piece of wonder. So, yes, I tell you to allow yourself to feel your pain so that it may leave you, and it will leave you. It will allow you to realize the strength that you, and no one else, can create from your own self. It is the most shattering, yet amazing experience that your soul can go through. Go ahead and allow life to throw what it may at you, and break if you must. You're only human, Keep in mind, however, that you are the one who will put the pieces of yourself back together into a beautiful soul that you can say "I own every part of who I am."
Author's Note: This series will cover the online habits of Millennials, their spending power, impact on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, role in achieving gender parity and much more.
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