Class of 2007 – Innis
Innis Alumna, Fiona Clarke, is dedicated to speaking for those who do not have a voice. This is evident through all facets of her life including her academics, employment, and volunteer work. For her efforts, she was recently inducted into the “National Wall of Role Models” for Black Canadians.
In a few words, please outline your career path.
My first degree was an Honours Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy Specialist) at UofT. In my final year, I took a service-learning course through St. Michael’s College’s Christianity and Culture program called Intercordia and spent three months in Nicaragua working as a mural art teaching assistant with a non-governmental organization, FUNARTE. This course taught me important lessons about social justice and global citizenship, inspiring me to work in Trinidad for the Judiciary. After eight months, I returned to Toronto and began working for the Ontario Public Service. During this time my passion for art and writing was reignited, and so I began traveling around North America taking workshops. While in Los Angeles, visiting the California African American Museum, I was given a private tour of the slavery exhibit and was moved. I came back to Toronto and joined the Ontario Black History Society. I began giving Black history talks in schools and doing Afrocentric research. I became a blogger for Who’s Who in Black Canada. Eventually, I won a grant from the Office of the Provincial Advocate of Children and Youth to publish a full-length collection of youth work on the Black experience called Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth (2012). Having seen first-hand social disparity around the world, I decided to attend law school at the University of Southampton and obtained an Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree. I am currently pursuing a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree at Osgoode Hall Law School. In my spare time, I am on the board of Diaspora Iwachu, a speaker for Passages to Canada, a member of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, a facilitator for Toronto Wordsmiths, as well as Chief Editor of Afro Excel.
How did you become involved in Innocence Network United Kingdom? What is most the rewarding part for you?
In law school, I became interested in miscarriages of justice after hearing a talk from the sister of a victim of a miscarriage of justice. The talk opened my eyes to the other side of the law and how the justice system can negatively affect the lives of factually innocent people. This inspired me to join the Innocence Network and start working as a caseworker for the University of Southampton Innocence Project. We were assigned a client’s criminal case and worked on it for two academic years. The most rewarding part of being an Innocence Project caseworker is using your education and skills to help a person convicted of a serious crime who, despite not having the possibility of parole, still maintains their innocence. Understanding the cost of maintaining innocence to our clients, that they are in prison for decades at a time for serious crimes, their reputations ruined, loved ones having abandoned them, and that they have often exhausted all of their options by the time their case gets to the Innocence Network, is really powerful and a strong motivating force to work your hardest on the case.
As an author, do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction?
As an author, my first love is fiction. I began writing stories as a seven-year-old and would always receive gold stars in my notebooks from my teachers. Now, I love to turn the stories of people I meet, stories that are often neglected, into moving words on the page. However, lately I have also been learning the strength of sharing personal stories through non-fiction.
What are some of the difficulties you faced when publishing your anthology, Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth?
Some of the challenges I faced when publishing Basodee were when people could not understanding why I was putting together a collection on the topic of Blackness. Many people take issue with the idea of Black History Month, which they argue tokenize Blackness and limit its discussion in public discourse to the month of February. As Basodee came out of a desire to publish work for Black History Month for youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity to have their voices published in the Canadian literary space, it was sometimes hard to convince artists and writers to contribute. Another issue I faced was that I sometimes received contributions from writers who could not come to grips with the perspective that Basodee was trying to reflect: the experience of marginalization within Canadian mainstream society. Some pieces originally submitted for publication reflected mainstream views of identity, and so, it was difficult explaining to these artists why their work wasn’t able to be included in the collection.
What is the most important lesson you have learned during your career?
The most important lesson I have learned in my career is that you have to make your own opportunities. You are responsible for creating the career you want.
What is your favourite memory from your time spent at Innis College?
My favourite memory at Innis College was watching films for the first year course Intro to Film Studies. The theatre facilities were amazing. I remember sitting at the back of the dark theatre and realizing I actually get to watch movies for marks! Other than that, I spent a lot of time in the Innis College library, writing papers and doing research, and I love libraries. I really liked the Innis College one because it was small with many different levels and you had to climb up stairs to get to it; it was like a little hideout on campus.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with current Innis students?
My best advice for Innis students is first, to take advantage of the incredible resources available at the University of Toronto because you will miss them when you are gone. Second, to participate in service-learning courses, as they can offer opportunities to travel for academic credit and will definitely make your university experience. Third, is that Innis College is a supportive environment. When I was an undergraduate student at Innis, I needed some extra help in my final year. I was easily able to meet with the Registrar, who was able to find a solution to my problem. I will always remember it and remain grateful to Innis College.