I see you 

I wish I could measure how many hours in the day I spend second-guessing or doubting myself. The number would probably be surprisingly high. Maybe I even do this in my dreams. I believe myself to be very confident and self-aware of my strengths and my weaknesses but I’ve recently been challenged by my community of women to look even further and dig even deeper.

At the beginning of 2019, the opportunity arose to work with Vanessa Paesani on her baby - Amplify: East - to say I was over the moon is an understatement. I’ve long admired Vanessa, we were both in 21Inc. (an Atlantic Canada leadership programme), and though not at the same time, her name was spoken in what I believed was a hushed reverence. She knew her stuff and she was approachable. I interviewed for the Executive Director role of 21Inc. and after getting over the initial disappointment that I was not successful - we all want to win and be the best, don’t we? - I watched from the wings as Vanessa guided 21Inc. through a transitionary period. I don’t think there was anyone else who could have handled this role - Vanessa is one of a kind, a visionary and we’re so fortunate to have her in Atlantic Canada.

But I didn’t think Vanessa was amazing because she had these titles after her name or what she did - I reflected on what drew me to her and it really was her ability to connect with people. Amplify: East is a by-product of this skill and every day we showcase that remarkable women are #NotASupplyProblem here in Atlantic Canada.

When I started at the beginning of the year, Amplify: East was almost one year old and in full toddler phase. I kept bouncing what I thought was new ideas off to Vanessa and other peers, only to realise that we’ve tried these things before. I then became a bit disheartened by some of the feedback I was receiving. I’ve heard that Amplify: East is “too white”, “too young”, “too feminist”. I’ve had women who have been nominated decline because they didn’t want to “show off” and a host of other reasons. I’m trying to learn to accept these reasons because everyone has a choice to make decisions for themselves. I guess I feel sad and helpless because I realise that it’s not just Black, Brown, LGBTQI+, women of colour and other minorities, persons with visible and invisible disabilities that were facing this “I’m not good enough” feeling, but even white women in my community felt this “I don’t want to talk about myself” vibe.

I’ve never viewed Amplify: East as a “show off” platform, that the women on it are egotistical blow-hards, but even if they were (me included!) then SO WHAT?! I know it’s not easy, I’ve been nominated since 2018 but pushed it to the backburner for months as it just didn’t seem to be a priority: I had other things going on, the daily grind, girlfriends to lime with, Michelle Obama’s book to dissect, those stubborn 10lbs to lose (ok why lie, more like 20 lbs), family to nurture, husband to date and laugh with. I get it - the emotional labour that women bring to the table is finally being acknowledged but still difficult to quantify. However, If I’m not prepared to sit and write my own story of Liesl Mulholland, then I let the colonizers once again reframe my narrative. They will say I am an “angry, Black woman”, that “she only got where she is because...the organisation was going for diversity” - true story, right here in Nova Scotia! If we women do not step up and share OUR story then the chasm in our society continues to widen. I grew up in the Caribbean, women leaders and Black women leaders were commonplace. Prime Ministers and Presidents looked like me in Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago. My teachers, service providers, doctors, lawyers looked like me. It was and still is a matriarchal society. I never thought twice about this until living here in Nova Scotia where when I see another Black person in the room, we surreptitiously give each other “the nod”, the universal “I see you and thank you for representing so that at least for today I am not the only Black person in the room”. We really do want what is best for our children and I want my daughter to grow up in Nova Scotia seeing women of all colours, shapes, backgrounds being celebrated and celebrating each other. I want her to learn about Indigenous women not through a school “craft project” of making dreamcatchers (how is this still a thing in 2019 in our school system?) but by reading their stories that are told and shared on platforms like Amplify: East: stories by Amanda Reid Rogers, Christin Swim, and others who I can learn from even if I’ve never met. Our voices are powerful, our words resonate and we need to keep telling our stories!   

For me, Amplify: East is that community of “I see you, I see what you are doing” - all the women who are profiled are nominated by a peer - other women and men - take the time to complete a nomination form because they think this woman is remarkable, even if you may not think that about yourself, or you do but you’re not ready or will ever be ready or wanting to share this with the world. We’re all on this journey together so let’s keep trying to find ways to support each other, support ourselves and keep showing our youth that remarkable women are right here in their backyard.

- Liesl Mulholland, May 9th, 2019