Leadership from the Margins: Executive Director, Mojdeh Cox Shares Her Why

Content warning: trauma, hate, violence, racism

At Pillar, we believe in the power of stories to inspire and motivate us in our pursuit of social good. Our new Executive Director, Mojdeh Cox has generously taken the time to share her own story and the personal and professional experiences that have brought her to Pillar today. Her story provides a first-hand account of the injustices in our systems and culture today and the importance of centring historically marginalized individuals in the pursuit of an equitable future for all. Mojdeh’s story shows us what is possible when we channel adversity into action and look beyond ourselves to create the world we wish to see.

Interrupting fear with human connection

As a young child, I experienced direct and violent racism and found it very concerning and confusing. My first and most profound experience with racism was when a very sweet looking elderly person told me to go back to my country. It was painful because my journey to Canada was long and hard. I had hoped that once I came to my new home I would have stability and community. As a child, I left my country because of war and made my way through 3 continents and 6 countries - often undocumented. My formative years were traumatic, and that experience truly broke my heart.

The challenges of my early years made me recognize that I wouldn't feel whole as a person if I was not working towards the changes I felt we needed to make as a society. I started volunteering at the age of 8 visiting the elderly in a long-term care home who did not have regular visitors. This was less than two years after coming to Canada. I volunteered there because I wanted to interrupt fear with real human connection. I wanted people to know that children like me deserve love and community.

Walking the path to dismantling injustice

When it came time to attend university and consider my career path, exploring Liberal Arts and Social Justice and Peace studies felt aligned for me. It allowed me to continue to challenge my own social location and my interaction with harmful systems as a global citizen living in the West. I had the opportunity to learn about fascinating topics like liberation theology and the arts as a form of not only liberation, but a form of protest and civil disobedience. The most life-transforming aspect of the program for me was learning about the theory and practice of popular education - what I built my unique consulting practice from.

I don't feel that my choice in education or my career path in the social impact sphere was a choice - for me it was survival and a desperate dance with wanting to be seen and heard and wanting to "earn my keep" so-to-speak in a country that I didn't feel valued me as a person. My choices were a way for me to regain agency and to work hard to remove barriers for myself and others. I felt like I would be complicit if I wasn't actively attempting to dismantle the injustices that I and so many others like me were experiencing.

Leading from experience

I lived in London for 18 years and am coming full circle as I move back to the city to enter this new chapter as Pillar’s Executive Director. As a racialized, first-generation immigrant, I experienced the effects of multiple systems of oppression in this city. I know from experience that systems continue to fail equity-deserving people and am aware and committed to learning more about the work that needs to be done to achieve meaningful and long-lasting change.

In my time away from the city, I have seen strides toward change and that brings me hope about the future of London. I am encouraged that the City of London’s Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which I engaged with as one of the lead facilitators in 2017, is still being carried out and that the city has established an anti-racism office just this year. While this is encouraging, we must also face the reality that there are deep roots of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination in this city; a fact that equity-deserving people, particularly those who are Indigenous, Black and other racialized people have known to be true for many years. 

In the wake of the unspeakable and deadly terrorist attack on the Afzaal family, it is abundantly clear that there is still much to be done to shift systems of oppression on all levels - from personal attitudes to structural discrimination and inequities - that are actively harming people. To make these needed changes, the voices of racialized and other equity-deserving people and communities must be represented and heard. We must break down walls and bring people together across communities and sectors to share our experiences and co-create a future where we all belong.  

Convening for systems transformation

The common thread connecting my career working towards municipal, provincial and federal equity initiatives is my capacity to organize. I like to bring people together to work towards solutions to problems that are complex. I have been a convener for as long as I can remember and most of my professional life has been focused on building grassroots capacity. As an organizer, I believe in collective power and that has been my motivation in my professional life: the power of common dreams, common goals, common good and collective action.

Joining the Pillar team was the right match for many reasons - much to do with the organization's alignment with my personal values - leveraging collective power, co-creating pathways to solutions, being creative and holding space for fun and joy as we build more compassionate communities of belonging. Pillar's strategic plan is radical - it aims to address root causes of complex issues through collective action. From acknowledging and addressing economic barriers for people to engage more equitably in their communities, to creating solutions to be better stewards of our environment, are all radical declarations and commitments.

As we imagine what recovery can look like in these times, we will share what collective radical accountability can look like for us as an organization and for the impact sector. Through our strategic plan, we have the opportunity to embed radical accountability in our collective actions towards a new way of living post-covid and lead by example. This means a lot of self-reflection, being willing to challenge our own ideas, biases and old comforts and being able to take the perspective of those living in the margins. We can no longer be silent about issues that make us uncomfortable and we must mature as a sector to be able to see that many of the issues we aim to tackle are interconnected and address them locally with impact. The pursuit of equity rooted in social justice is the core work of the impact sector. It’s time for us to step up. I’m here for it and look forward to co-creating with our network and community on the journey. 


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