Department Head Of Student Leadership, W.P. Wagner High School
As a BIPOC educator and Department Head of Student Leadership at W.P. Wagner High School, Atif Hirjee is well aware of issues of racism. And, since he is a trusted figure, students come to him with their concerns. One mentioned he was followed around a store because of the colour of his skin. Another said she keeps track of students who look like her at school. Then, a student made a comment in an Instagram thread focused on racist events. It said: What are we going to do about it?
“For me, that was a defining moment in providing insight into the immediate necessity for anti-racism education,” says Hirjee. He researched and curated a series of anti-racist resources for students and staff. He then shared them with over 10 schools in the city. Hirjee also collaborated on a session called Anti-Racism 101. The session was facilitated over 14 times to over 1,000 educators, with requests being gathered for the following school year.
Hirjee says growing up, he learned early the importance of having strong role models, especially as his mom passed away from cancer when he was just 13 years old. The strength she showed, and the love he received after she passed from his father, sister and many community members, is something Hirjee, an Ismaili Muslim, carries with him forever.
“I was surrounded by people who stepped up to take care of me and enabled me to be my best self,” says Hirjee. “I learned to really appreciate the amount that other people can teach.”