2014 Hero: Mustafa the Poet
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2014 Hero: Mustafa the Poet

Nominated for: giving voice to his vision of a better Toronto.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

HeroesAndVillains2014 MustafaThePoet

Mustafa Ahmed may appear to be your average teenager: he’s a skinny 18-year-old who likes basketball and does well in school. But then you hear him speak—and you listen.

Ahmed, better known as Mustafa the Poet, has performed his spoken word poetry around the city—and across the country—for more than five years. His poems are not easy; he challenges his audiences to think about race, poverty, trust, and justice in a way that shatters preconceived notions about what it means to grow up in Regent Park—as he did—or Toronto at large.

He celebrates his community, collaborating, for example, on a moving video about Regent Park that highlights the neighbourhood’s spirit and uniqueness.

And at a Walrus event in October, which took place shortly after the death of his friend Yusuf Ali, Ahmed spoke movingly about love and loss. He carries his community with him, and we are better off for it.

With the release of his self-titled debut EP, he’s shown he’s ready to take the next step in his career.

It’s tempting to think of him in terms of certain reductive narratives: “he’s wise beyond his years,” or “he’s a Regent Park success story.” Those views, well intentioned though they may be, relate his accomplishments to his demographics, belittle where he comes from, and fail to do justice to what he offers.

Mustafa represents the best of Toronto, regardless of age, community, or demographic. He articulates a vision of his community and city that is at once energetic and confident, but that also speaks to shortcomings we should address. He uses his particular talents to give voice to people who are often overlooked or marginalized, and presents an image of our city that, for better or worse, is honest and authentic.

For helping us see our city and ourselves more clearly, and for making it a joy to listen when he speaks, Mustafa is a 2014 hero.