So yesterday I presented at an event called Sister2Sister and the whole experience was fascinating and yet left me feeling a little sad.

These were grade eight girls from inner city schools, coming together to receive inspiring advice from women professionals in all kinds of fields: law, police, firefighters, construction/trades, government liasion, dance, boxing, singing and then me, writing and storytelling.

The organizers had contacted me months and months ago to be part of the program and when our first attempt got snowed out, it was to be held on Feb. 8th, the day of a massive blizzard that hit Toronto and the day before I was going to Iran, so it was postponed to yesterday.

As soon as I got there I could understand why they’d been so keen on having me. At least a third of the girls wore hijab, and there was one brave soul who even wore niqab.

The program started with a dancer named Grace Kaya and she spoke of being kind, professional, on time, and looking for opportunities. She’d been in dance videos for Rihanna, Ricky Martin, JayZ, and others I can’t remember. And as she spoke so eloquently and then demonstrated her liquid dance moves, I thought, “Darn! How can I top that!?”

And then all the women professionals who’d taken time out of their busy schedules to come and speak at the event, got up and introduced themselves.

Some of them talked a little too long, but then they were fascinating so it was hard to know if it even mattered.

Then half of the two hunded girls went downstairs to mingle and ask questions from the professionals and half stayed to listen to me.

Grace Kaya stayed too, sitting eagerly, her face shining in the front row. That can be very intimidating! *g*

But hey, once I got going, the nerves settled down and the kids were with me.

Afterwards, Grace and I were chatting, (she’s so nice! And had loved my presentation) this hijabi girl came up to me and told me she remembered me from the time I visited their school years ago, and that she’d read Wanting Mor many times! It was so cute! She was keen on writing and I gave her some tips.

When I had to repeat the presentation for the second group of a hundred, because of time constraints, one of the organizers asked if I was willing to do so while they ate lunch.

I said, yes, but it was a mistake.

It is MUCH harder to present to a bunch of girls who are crinkling the paper wrapping of their sandwiches, chomping down on apples (and one in the back was even tossing hers in the air for goodness sakes, till I told her to stop!) and sipping on juice boxes.

They were listening, I’m sure. Their eyes were on me, but it didn’t feel like it. I felt like I was grasping for their attention, and even when they sat motionless during the climax of the presentation, their mouths hanging slightly open because they’d forgotten to keep chewing, it wasn’t like the first group.

And I thought, Okay, lesson learned, never agree to talk while teens are eating again.

To end the program they had this young singer, Linda Luztono, who’d been through the school system, had tried to take a course at Humber college in Criminal procedure or something like that but spent her days dreaming of being on stage, singing.

She has a wonderful voice and a nice stage presence, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her! She came up to me afterwards and told me how much she’d related to my talk.

This young twenty something, with a Ukrainian mother and a Cuban father, who was also an immigrant to Canada.

Very very interesting.

It’s always a risk to pursue your dreams. You keep thinking to yourself, how will I ever rise above the competition, and yet if it’s meant to be, you will.

And it all comes back to being yourself.

There was a quote on a poster at the back of the room that caught my eye: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” And it’s by Oscar Wilde, and during Linda’s little talk she said, “Be yourself.” And at the end she asked if there were any questions and for a second I contemplated putting up my hand and asking her what she meant by ‘being yourself’ because it’s a common saying but I think most kids don’t really know what that means.

But then I thought it would kill the buzz, and might put her on the spot so I didn’t.

But the saddest thing was, at the end of the day, when the girls started filing on down the stairs, to go back to their schools or go home, not sure which, I kept thinking to myself, the BOYS NEED THIS!

We’re focusing so much on the girls and yet the boys need programs like this too!

And it just doesn’t seem like there’s as much a drive to empower the boys as there is to empower the girls.

It’s really sad.