Rukiya Bernard was born and raised in Toronto.
She grew up heavily immersed in the arts studying classical ballet for 13 years, receiving her grade 10 classical piano certification from The Royal Conservatory of Music and doing plays throughout her school career. She graduated with honours from Ryerson University’s theatre program and quickly started working with a support lead role in Ernest Dickerson’s Our America. Other notable appearances include Supernatural, Stargate Universe, Primeval: New World, The Haunting Hour, Stuck, The Music Teacher.
Rukiya can be seen in the hit BBC America show Intruders which recently premiered on Space. We sat down with this talented beauty who now calls Vancouver her home and chatted about her career and aspirations.
Q & A with Rukiya Bernard
Surrey604: You have been acting for a long time, when did you decide that you were going to pursue it professionally?
Rukiya: During high school I didn’t like high school all that much. I always felt different. So I decided to fast track through high school and I shaved off a year but when I realized that I would be graduating and my parents were expecting me to go through some sort of post secondary education I had to choose something. So I just chose the only course I actually enjoyed: theatre. My parents, though supportive – were scared.
Surrey604: You were recently seen in the hit BBC America show Intruders. What was it like working on this project.
Rukiya: AMAAAAZING!!!! I was in a couple of the very first episodes and any show that’s starting up usually has some kinks to work out before it becomes a well oiled machine. There was magic working on Intruders. From the time we did the table read I felt a sense of togetherness – no egos. Shooting was equally fun. Director Eduardo Sanchez, gave a lot of liberties to play around with character. And the majority of my scenes were with Millie Brown – who was such a pro to work with – even at her tender age of 8. It’s certainly been one of the highlights of my year.
Surrey604: You have been involved in a lot of big budget Hollywood products including Cabin in the Woods, Supernatural, The Day The Earth Stood still among many others. Do you ever get nervous? How do you deal with the nerves?
Rukiya: I rarely get nervous on set and not so much with auditions anymore. Cabin in the Woods I was nervous for though. I had watched Richard Jenkins’ Oscar nominated performance and became an instant fan. Then I had to do a scene with him. Well it really got me thinking about my talent – if it would measure up. That’s the mistake I’ve been working to undo. The craft isn’t a competition – I don’t think I’m the best actress – far from it. I think of myself as a student. There’s something about having that mindset that frees me up from being “the best” – and in that I can do my best. It’s been working these days 😉
Surrey604: I’m sure being an actress for so long requires a lot of self awareness. What are some practices that you incorporate into your life to help you stay balanced?
Rukiya: Ha! Self awareness is absolutely key -but lemme tell you – it can become indulgent. Since having my kids I’ve become a very busy lady and have worked a lot more. I think it’s because I’m not indulging in my self awareness but gaining an awareness of the world. I make sure I listen to people. I try to be as curious as possible about everything in life and learn from that. Only then can I relate to character because I’ll see myself in other people.
Surrey604: What would be your dream role?
Rukiya: I have a few. I’m currently writing some of them. I’ve always wanted to adapt Macbeth into an urban tale and play Lady M. I’m inspired by real life, be it comedy or drama – finding the humanity in extraordinary circumstances. So anything Judd Apatow, Vince Gilligan, Ron Howard, even Shonda Rhimes – man I wish I could play with Kerry Washington on Scandal.
Surrey604: What are some of your favourite television shows right now?
Rukiya:There are so many – I’m so happy great shows are drawing audiences again – away from reality TV. Um.. It’s done now – but I think Breaking Bad will go down as one of the best shows of all time. Sure hits are: The Mindy Project, Orange is New Black, House of Cards, Scandal. I’m old school too – Apatow’s Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks were genius shows as was Arrested Development – why they were cancelled…? Who knows.
Surrey604: Who is your favourite actor or actress you have worked with on set?
Rukiya: There have been so many – so many interesting joyful experiences and I’ve met some dear friends. Pascalle Hutton of Arctic Air was fabulous, Mena Suvari was fantastic. One of my best friends, Chris Jacot – I met him on the set of Relic Hunter in Toronto. We were both fresh out of theatre school. We’re still really close a decade later.
Surrey604: Which actor would you love to work opposite?
Rukiya: There are some giants I’d love to play with – Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Jennifer Lawrence, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Meryl, the list goes on and on and on.
Surrey604: What advice do you have for anyone interested in pursuing acting as a profession?
Rukiya: Do it for the love of the craft – not for the fame and certainly not for the money. There are many more sure-fire ways of becoming famous and rich. I think all of us actors battle this notion – so at least have an awareness of this to help keep you grounded in the down times. And live your life.
Top 15 South Asian Role Models
Surrey, British Columbia – Sher Vancouver is pleased to announce the Top 15 South Asian Role Models for 2020.
The Top 15 South Asian Role Models was a list first compiled by Sher Vancouver Founder and award-winning social worker and documentary film producer, Alex Sangha, in January 2011 and was published in the Vancouver Observer. A new list was compiled in June 2015 and published in the Georgia Straight, Huffington Post, Darpan Magazine, and Surrey604.
The Top 15 South Asian Role Models is now released for publication approximately every five years.
The purpose of the list is threefold:
- To educate the broader public about the contributions that South Asian people make to the world.
- To provide South Asian youth with positive role models so they can feel proud of their culture, heritage, and accomplishments as a community.
- To showcase the ethnocultural diversity of South Asia as a subcontinent and its people. For the purposes of this list, South Asia includes people from the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives and their diaspora worldwide. People from Afghanistan, Burma, and Tibet may also be considered at the discretion of the jury.
- SELECTION COMMITTEE – People from South Asia or the South Asian diaspora who are inspirational, influential, and impactful especially within the last five years are shortlisted. A selection committee from Sher Vancouver research and come up with the shortlist.
- CORE MEMBERSHIP – This shortlist is then sent to the core Sher Vancouver membership for final recommendations, review, and feedback.
- PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT – Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha then gathers all the feedback, information, and recommendations and announces the Top 15 list in a news release to the general public and the media, as well as various social media platforms.
The world cannot stop talking about immigration. It is an eminent topic that spurs political debates and sensationalizes headlines, creates conflict and opportunity, and affects the world over. People from South Asia and their diaspora around the world make up a remarkably diverse demographic.
If you look at the largest country in South Asia for example, India, you will discover that over 31 million people of Indian birth or descent are part of the Indian diaspora spread around the globe. Their social and cultural diversity is represented in 33 major languages and some 1500 minor ones, seven major religions, and a mélange of six major ethnic groups.
Furthermore, Professor Nirvikar Singh, co-author of a book on the Indian diaspora, “The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” notes that 8% of the founders of high-tech companies in the US are Indians. Indians are one of the richest and most educated ethnic groups in one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. These numbers tell only half of the story.
From their collective experiences abet with separating from their homeland, they continue to find ways to embrace the best the world has to offer, while maintaining their cultural roots and identities as Indians. They have integrated themselves into a pluralistic western society, which values competitiveness, egalitarianism, and objective individualism to achieve success and contribute effectively to a larger society.
TOP 15 SOUTH ASIAN ROLE MODELS FOR 2020
The Top 15 is made up of seven women and eight men with origins from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, USA, and the United Kingdom from Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh families. We also have five wonderful Honourable Mentions for you to check out!
“The opportunity to create a list of the Top 15 South Asian Role Models for 2020 has been an eye-opening experience. The impact South Asians have had through multiple fields and professions is utterly amazing. I am proud to help showcase some of these wonderful people and give recognition to deserving members of our distinct and varied communities,” states Sher Vancouver Youth Group Member Karn Sahota.
“It was very difficult to shortlist the Top 15 as the world is full of wonderful South Asians and people of South Asian origin doing amazing and incredible things. I felt so proud of being an immigrant from Punjab, India and South Asia after researching and learning about all the amazing achievements and community service and success of our global community,” states Sher Vancouver Vice President Kayden Bhangu.
Here are some amazing South Asians that are making tremendous strides in the present times in random alphabetical order by last name:
1. RIZ AHMED – Actor, rapper, and activist. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music. As an actor, he has won an Emmy Award and has received nominations for a Golden Globe and three British Independent Film Awards.
2. SHAHIDUL ALAM – Photojournalist, teacher, and social activist. He was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018.
3. EDUARDO BHATIA – Attorney and politician. He is the former 15th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico and former executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. Bhatia has worked to eradicate the injustices of inequality and lift Puerto Rico from the ruins, fight poverty and rebuild the middle class to through the transformation of the country’s public schools.
4. JAMEELA JAMIL – Actress, radio presenter, model, and writer. Jamil was one of fifteen women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue Forces for Change.
5. SAL KHAN – Founder of non-profit Khan Academy, one of the most popular online learning sites. He has been profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes, featured on the cover of Forbes and recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
6. HASAN MINAJ – Comedian, actor, and writer. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world of 2019 and was awarded Peabody and Webby award for his Netflix show in 2019.
7. SATYA N. NADELLA – Business executive. He is an Indian American CEO and Director of Microsoft since 2014. In 2019, Nadella was named the Financial Times Person of the Year.
8. VIKRAM H. PATEL – Internationally renowned researcher, psychiatrist. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world.
9. NAOMI SCOTT – Actress. She has made her mark in both the British and the American entertainment industries as a singer and an actress. She is best known for her role as Princess Jasmine in Disney’s musical Aladdin released in 2019.
10. HANNAH SIMONE – Actress, television host, and fashion model. She is best known for portraying Cece on the Fox sitcom New Girl. Besides her career in the show business, she has also done research on the rights of children and women for a book under former Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy.
11. LILLY SINGH – Actress, comedian, author, and television host. She has received a People’s Choice Award and was listed by Forbes as one of the 40 most powerful people in comedy in 2019.
12. RAVI SINGH – Humanitarian. He is the Founder of Khalsa Aid which is a UK-based humanitarian relief charity providing support around the world to victims of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, and war.
13. JAYSHREE ULLAL- Businesswoman. The current president and CEO of Arista Networks, Ullal is credited with the deployment of a transformational ethernet networking program. She is now one of America’s wealthiest female executives. Forbes named Ullal as one of the top five most influential people in the networking industry today.
14. INDIRA VARMA- Actress. Indira is best known for her role as Niobe of the Voreni in HBO’s Rome. Her first major role was in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love – an Indian historical romance film by Deepa Mehta. In the UK, she is better known as a versatile television artist and has appeared in several television serials including the all-time favourites Torchwood, Bones, and Game of Thrones.
15. MALALA YOUSAFZAI – Advocate for female education and the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.
- TAN FRANCE – Fashion designer, television personality, and author. Tan is most famous for being the fashion expert for the Netflix series Queer Eye. He became one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.
- ARUNDHATI KATJU – Lawyer and MENAKA GURUSWAMY – Senior Advocate. Arundhati and Menaka have helped take a giant step for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s largest democracy by winning a fight against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that decriminalized homosexuality.
- ALOK VAID MENON – Writer, performance artist, and media personality. Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine and uses singular they pronouns. As a mixed-media artist Alok uses poetry, prose, comedy, performance, lecture, fashion design, and portraiture to explore themes of gender, race, trauma, belonging, and the human condition. They have presented their work at 500 venues in more than 40 countries.
- DANNY PUDI – Actor, comedian, writer, producer, and director. Danny is best known for portraying the pop culture-obsessed Abed on NBC’s show Community. He has received three nominations for the Critics’ Choice Television Award.
- RAGHURAM RAJAN – Economist. Raghuram is very widely respected and acknowledged in the field of economics. He is amongst the Top 10 Economists of the World, especially due to his foresight of the 2008 economic recession. He was named by Time in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
DETAILED BIOGRAPHIES OF THE TOP 15
RIZ AHMED is an actor, rapper, and activist (born December 1, 1982, in London, UK to a British Pakistani family). Riz was initially known for his work in independent films such as The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013), as well as television series such as Britz (2007) and Dead Set (2008), before his breakout role in the film Nightcrawler (2014).
He then went on act as a lead in HBO miniseries The Night of and Girls for which he became the first Asian and first Muslim to win an acting Emmy. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music. As an actor, he has won an Emmy Award and has received nominations for a Golden Globe and three British Independent Film Awards.
Ahmed has spoken about the lack of accurate representation of Muslims in the arts, and often expresses these views on social media and has inspired to developing the Riz Test which aims to identify the nature of Muslim representation in film and TV.
SHAHIDUL ALAM is a photojournalist, teacher, and social activist (born 1955 in Dhaka, Bangladesh to a Muslim family). Shahidul was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018. Alam is synonymous with photography in South Asia.
In a career spanning more than three decades, he has chronicled his country’s tumultuous history, photographing natural disasters, political upheaval, human rights abuses and, recently, the conditions facing Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. He has also covered stories elsewhere in the region, including places rarely visited by journalists, such as the Maldives.
EDUARDO BHATIA is an attorney, and politician (born May 16, 1964, in San Salvador, El Salvador to an Indian father) He is the former 15th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico and former executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
Bhatia has worked to eradicate the injustices of the inequality and lift Puerto Rico from the ruins, fight poverty and rebuild the middle class through the transformation of the country’s public schools. He is the author of the most comprehensive energy reform law in Puerto Rico’s history (Law 57 of 2014).
JAMEELA JAMIL is an actress, radio presenter, model, and writer. (born February 25, 1986, in London, England, UK to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother). Jameela has become a bona fide star, thanks to her role in NBC’s The Good Place, and is considered as a star on the rise in the entertainment industry. Jameela openly identifies as queer.
Jamil was the first solo female presenter of the BBC Radio 1 chart show. Jamil was one of fifteen women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue Forces for Change. She is set to appear as a judge on HBO ballroom competition show Legendary.
SAL KHAN is an educator (born October 11, 1976 in Louisiana, US to a Bengali family). Sal is the founder of the non-profit Khan Academy, one of the most popular online learning sites. Khan, 43, has spent the last 12 years developing hundreds of free classes, from math and science to history. His goal is to make learning accessible for everyone, everywhere.
Khan is revolutionizing education and helping millions of people by making it interactive and accessible so that anyone in the world can learn and prosper. Khan has been profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes, featured on the cover of Forbes, and recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. He holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
HASAN MINAJ is a comedian, actor, and writer (born September 23, 1985, in California, US to a Muslim family). Until recently, he was a correspondent on the Emmy and Peabody award-winning program The Daily Show.
Hasan has been a featured speaker at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, has hosted one-man show, Homecoming King which debuted Off-Broadway and landed his own show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj on Netflix. Minaj was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world of 2019 and was awarded Peabody and Webby award for his Netflix show in 2019.
SATYA N. NADELLA is a business executive (born August 19, 1967, in Hyderabad, India to a Hindu Telugu family). Satya is the CEO and Director of Microsoft since 2014. When Mr. Nadella took over, Microsoft was in danger of having missed almost every important new technology trend since the turn of the century.
Mr. Nadella responded by taking Microsoft back to its roots, looking to a period before Windows when its software tools were used by other companies to build their own technology. Microsoft’s stock price has more than quadrupled since Satya Nadella took over as CEO six years ago.
In 2019, Nadella was named the Financial Times Person of the Year.
VIKRAM H. PATEL is an internationally renowned researcher and psychiatrist (born May 5, 1964, in Mumbai, India to a Hindu family). He co-founded the Centre for Global Mental Health in 2008. Dr. Patel leads research that plays a central role in the emergence and development of the field of global mental health and that has galvanized policy, civil society, and donor action to address the large unmet need for care for people with mental disorders in low-and middle-income countries.
Patel outlines a highly promising approach — training members of communities to give mental health interventions, empowering ordinary people to care for others. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world and was recipient of Canada Gairdner Global Health Award in 2019.
NAOMI SCOTT is an actress and singer (born May 6, 1993, in London, UK to an Indian Gujarati mother). She has made her mark in both the British and the American entertainment industries as a singer and an actress. She is best known for her role as Princess Jasmine in Disney’s musical Aladdin released in 2019.
Subsequently, Scott went on to star as one of the three leads in the action comedy film Charlie’s Angels. She has also released the EPs Invisible Division and Promises.
HANNAH SIMONE is an actress, television host, and fashion model (born August 3, 1980 in London, UK to an Indian father). Hannah is best known for portraying Cece on the Fox sitcom New Girl. Her effortless performance and enthralling personality are the main reasons behind her growing popularity in the show business.
She began her journey in the entertainment industry as a TV host and VJ before exploring other avenues such as acting. Besides her career in the show business, she has also done research on the rights of children and women for a book under former Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy.
LILLY SINGH is an actress, comedian, author, and television host (born September 26, 1988, in Scarborough, Ontario to a Punjabi Sikh family). Lilly Singh has amassed nearly 15 million subscribers and more than 3 billion views since launching her popular channel of YouTube videos under the name “Superwoman” in 2010. She has since appeared as an actor in films and TV series and published a book that topped the New York Times Business Best Sellers list.
Singh is currently the host of a new late-night talk show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” on NBC. She is the only openly LGBTQ person as well as the first person of Indian descent who is hosting a talk show on a major broadcast network. Singh has received a People’s Choice Award and was listed by Forbes as one of the 40 most powerful people in comedy in 2019.
RAVI SINGH is a humanitarian (born in Singapore and of British Sikh origin). He is the Founder of Khalsa Aid which is a UK-based humanitarian relief charity providing support around the world to victims of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, and war. The Khalsa Aid team is often one of the first on the scene to help distribute food, water, clothing, medical and sanitation supplies.
They fund and build semi-permanent shelters, if needed – anything that’s required in those early days to save lives, reduce people’s immediate suffering, and help maintain their dignity. Ravi saw the footage of the Kosovan refugees on the news and was inspired by one Sikhi ideology in particular – “Sarbat da Bhalla” meaning “well-being for all” – recognizing the humanity in us all and reaching out to those in need, regardless of race, religion, borders.
JAYSHREE ULLAL is a businesswoman (born March 27, 1961 in London, UK to an Indian family). Jayashree spent her formative years in New Delhi, India. The current president and CEO of Arista Networks, Ullal is credited with the deployment of a transformational ethernet networking program. She is now one of America’s wealthiest female executives. Forbes named Ullal as one of the top five most influential people in the networking industry today.
INDIRA VARMA is an actress (born May 14, 1973, in Somerset, UK to an Indian father). Indira is best known for her role as Niobe of the Voreni in HBO’s Rome. Her first major role was in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love – an Indian historical romance film by Deepa Mehta. In the UK, she is better known as a versatile television artist and has appeared in several television serials including the all-time favourites Torchwood, Bones, and Game of Thrones that consist of comedy, horror, and drama to cater to a wide spectrum of audience.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI is an advocate for female education (born July 12, 1997, in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Malala is a Pashtun Muslim). She is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate and a former blogger for BBC Urdu. She is currently a student at Oxford University studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall.
DETAILED BIOGRAPHIES OF THE HONOURABLE MENTIONS
TAN FRANCE is a fashion designer, television personality, and author (born April 20, 1983, in South Yorkshire, UK to Muslim Pakistani parents). Tan is most famous for being the fashion expert for the Netflix series Queer Eye. He became one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.
France has gone on to co-host a Netflix series Next in Fashion with Alexa Chung and released his memoir, Naturally Tan in 2019.
ARUNDHATI KATJU is a lawyer (born August 19, 1982, in Allahabad, India and MENAKA GURUSWAMY is a Senior Advocate (born November 27, 1974, in Hyderabad, India). Arundhati and Menaka became beacons of hope for the Indian LGBTQ+ community. Their perseverance and commitment led an entire community to a historic win by humanizing their struggles and giving them the freedom to love.
Arundhati and Menaka have helped take a giant step for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s largest democracy by winning a fight against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that decriminalized homosexuality.
ALOK VAID MENON is a writer, performance artist, and media personality (born July 1, 1991, in Texas, US to Malayali and Punjabi family). Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine and uses singular they pronouns. As a mixed-media artist Alok uses poetry, prose, comedy, performance, lecture, fashion design, and portraiture to explore themes of gender, race, trauma, belonging, and the human condition.
They are the author of Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020). In 2019 they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100. They have presented their work at 500 venues in more than 40 countries.
DANNY PUDI is an actor, comedian, writer, producer, and director (born March 10, 1979, in Chicago, US to an Indian father). Danny is best known for portraying the pop culture-obsessed Abed on NBC’s show Community. He has received three nominations for the Critics’ Choice Television Award. Danny made his debut as a director with a short film called Untucked about Marquette’s legendary basketball uniforms for the ESPN 30 for 30 series.
RAGHURAM RAJAN is a widely respected economist (born February 3, 1963, in Bhopal, India to a Hindu family). He is amongst the Top 10 Economists of the World, especially due to his foresight of the 2008 economic recession. He was named by Time in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
“Seeing the Light” – Reflections for Pride 2020 by Alex Sangha
I’m gay and I’m a person of colour, from a South Asian community. I am a Punjabi Sikh male. I belong to a cultural community where most people do not accept homosexuality. But over the years I’ve found ways to overcome my challenges and focus on my strengths. I was a closeted young man. I was very sad about being gay—was suicidal throughout my teens.
I felt like a sick person for having sexual thoughts about men. I didn’t want to be different and was afraid of being rejected by my family—there’s a lot of pressure in the South Asian community to get married and have children. When I was 13 I secretly found my way to a counsellor, hoping to become straight. His approach was to support me in whatever I decided, and he did walk me through the process of coming out as part of exploring my options.
When I was 18, I had a brief but positive relationship with a man. I knew then that I couldn’t change my sexuality. But I wanted to escape to another country, where very few people knew me, to live a gay life. So in 1991, at 19, I went to live with my grandfather in Gravesend, Kent, England, to attend college. I felt lonely and missed my family in Canada.
Within a few months of arriving in Kent, my emotions started going up and down. I hated myself for being gay. I had “internalized homophobia.” A cousin who lived nearby visited and was shocked by my appearance. I was not taking care of myself. He took me to his house and tried to get me to eat and sleep. I couldn’t eat or drink much, but I did lie down, cover myself with a blanket and fall into a deep sleep on his bed.
All of a sudden I remember feeling a type of strange energy coming from deep within me. Then it felt like it was leaving me. The top part of my body lifted up, the blanket fell off my face and I saw this light right in front of me. It’s hard to describe it, but it was magnificent. Then I got scared, so covered myself again with the blanket. And when I took another peek, the light was gone.
I think the Creator was trying to send me a message in my dream.I didn’t know what to make of the light and struggled until into my 30s to understand what it was. I wasn’t a spiritual person at the time it happened. I’d say I was open to the idea of a Creator but didn’t think about it much. But somehow, through seeing the light, I had a sense of the Creator wanting me to pursue work in the helping professions.
I returned to Canada and decided to study social work. When I was in England, I did go to the hospital for help after seeing the light. There they thought I just needed food and sleep. In this period, my mother asked me if I was gay. I lied and said I was bisexual.
Later, when I was at the University of British Columbia, I volunteered with a student LGBTQ+ organization. I wanted to make gay friends, and I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. We did presentations to the campus community on homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. We also organized a fun-filled “coming out” week when LGBTQ+ students could feel good about themselves and come out of the closet if they wished to. I was later elected Co-Chair of this queer campus organization.
I have since completed two master’s degrees. An MSc in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government at the London School of Economics where I received a partial entrance scholarship and a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In addition, I managed to obtain my clinical social work designation and I have my own counselling practice currently where I help many South Asian LGBTQ+ people in crisis or distress. I also worked as a team leader, clinician, social worker, youth counsellor, and instructor.
I am most proud, however, of being the Founder of Sher Vancouver which is a growing and dynamic non-profit organization for LGBTQ+ South Asians and their friends and families.
Sher Vancouver produced a short documentary film, My Name Was January, about our late social coordinator, January Marie Lapuz, who was tragically murdered in September 2012. The film also touches on other transgender women of colour issues. The film has won 14 awards and garnered 63 official selections at film festivals around the world. It has screened in 11 countries and entered the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Short Documentary in 2020.
As Founder of Sher Vancouver, I received the Meritorious Service Medal from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada. I almost cried at the ceremony. I could not believe that after such a long struggle coming to terms with my sexuality and being excluded and marginalized for much of my life, I was actually being recognized for my efforts in the LGBTQ+ community at the highest level.
Support of family and friends is very important when you’re a young gay kid trying to come out. Their support can help reduce stress, depression, and suicidal ideation. My mother has always been supportive. My father, who I felt anger at for abandoning me when I was younger, is now in my life. He doesn’t agree with my gay activism. But I’m grateful that my father supports me the best he can.
The other healing thing I have is my light experience. I’m now convinced that seeing the light was a spiritual experience. It took a long time for me to accept that because in North American society we’re not socialized to acknowledge spirituality. The western world is based on science and facts. I believe it was spiritual energy that everyone has within them; that the Creator is within everyone and is everywhere.
All that really matters is what I believe to be honest, and how it has impacted my life. When I think about the light, it feels like the Creator telling me it’s okay to be gay. It brings me peace and makes me feel like I am not alone in this journey of life.
Life of a Donor – a Plea for a Kidney for Curtis
“This is a plea for a kidney for Curtis, through the lens of the donor.”
A six part video series (featured below) was produced by Former Surrey City Councillor and retired Surrey Firefighter, Mike Starchuk for his friend Curtis Meyer, who desperately needs a new kidney. Starchuk himself was last among 13 who stepped up to be a donor, but all were ruled out.
Due to his compromised health, Curtis, an aircraft mechanic by trade, can no longer work for fear of being exposed to COVID-19. The pandemic further restricts his ability to search for a donor. Thus, Curtis and his loved ones are reaching out for help.
I had a kidney transplant 9 ½ years ago and unfortunately, last November, that kidney began to fail and I had to go on dialysis. I was so lucky to have numerous people call St. Paul’s to begin the process of donating their kidney but were declined due to their own health issues. One of our friends, Mike Starchuk, former City of Surrey Councilor, made it to the very last test, but unfortunately, due to a minor health issue, the surgeon at St. Paul’s recommended removal from the kidney donor program.
My doctors have advised me to try to find someone who may be willing to donate a kidney to me. While dialysis is helping, a transplant is the best medical treatment, and without a live donor, the deceased donor kidney wait list is years. Kidney failure causes a loss of energy, physical and mental fatigue and pain in my lower extremities. My food choices are limited, I’m not able to drink a lot of fluids, I have to give myself insulin and hemoglobin injections, I’m unable to lift anything over 15 lbs., I am on numerous pills daily and often don’t feel well enough to socialize with family and friends and do the activities I enjoy. A successful kidney transplant will improve and relieve many of my symptoms and eventually allow me to return to a normal way of life again.
Donors can live a normal, healthy life with just one kidney and they are carefully screened to make sure it is safe for them to donate. The transplant team makes the donor’s health and well-being a priority. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact (my wife) Shelley as she was my donor 9 ½ years ago. You don’t even have to be a blood match in order to donate, as you could go on the paired donor list which is when a “swap” occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible for me but therefore exchange their kidney with another donor/recipient pair and so two lives are saved. The exchange could be between 5-6 recipients so it opens up the possibilities for live donation.
I understand this is an extremely personal decision and there is a lot to think about. If anyone would like information and explore kidney donation further, feel free to contact the donor nurse coordinator at St. Paul’s Hospital at 604-806-9027 or 1-877-922-9822. You can also email at email@example.com. Please know exploring donation does not commit you in any way and you can make a choice to back away from the process at any point.
With Sincere Gratitude,
Starchuk’s series, filmed over Zoom, provides “bite-sized” nuggets of information about the organ donation process. “Our hope, during this devastating COVID-19 pandemic, is that people will take some of their ‘down time’ and look at how they can make a difference” says Starchuck.
Questions regarding why I should donate, what happens to me, how long it takes, and other pertinent questions are answered, from the donor’s point of view.
Help us to help Curtis, or someone else, get their life back.
Click on the green ribbon below for more information on how to register to be an Organ Donor in BC.
Young, Bright and a Promising Future Ahead: Aman Bassi
Aman Bassi is a young and coveted Executive Producer and Director from Surrey. Born in 1995 in Surrey, BC, she has been a part of popular Netflix productions like ‘Sabrina,’ ‘Firefly Lane’, ‘Stranger Things’, ‘6 Underground’, ‘Sacred Games’, Red Notice (in production)’ and ‘Riverdale (ongoing).
With numerous awards and accolades to her name, including ‘Best of Show’ and ‘Best of DOP’ at Whistler Film Festival along with a nomination as ‘Best New Director’ by PTC, Aman’s creative instincts have always set her apart in a crowd.
Glued to the camera since an early age, she is now a celebrated Director, having worked on Directors Guild film projects including ‘Ghosting’, ‘When the Lights go out’, ‘Descendents 2’, ‘The Mighty Ducks’, and ”Bates Motel.’ Her feature film projects include major titles such as Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, ‘Hobbes and Shaw’, ‘Deadpool 2’, ‘Jumanji 2,’ and some iconic Punjabi Films including ‘Manje Bistre 2’, ‘Ardaas Karaan, ‘PR’ and the indie film ‘Monster.’
Aman attended high school in Surrey at LA Matheson and Princess Margaret before graduating from the Art Institute in 2015. Starting her career in the film industry working as an assistant when she was all of 16, she eventually worked her way up to being the Executive Producer on the sets for Vancouver production houses.
Owing to her young age, Aman faced obstacles in proving her might and ability to others. Being young and female did not make it any easier. But her grandmother’s words always motivated her to do her best. “You should do anything and everything you want to in life,” she would say.
The 24-year-old Producer says, “Past couple of years in this field has given me a whole lot of perspective into how I want to channelize my life. When I started I didn’t think of it as a career option but now when I am at it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Never think you cannot do something or give up without trying. Hard days will come but they will go by. We all need to just keep a clear head and continue believing in ourselves.”
Bassi also has some popular music videos in her kitty, including, ‘High Rated Gabru’, ‘Issa Jatt’, ‘Too Hot’, ‘Pagal’, ‘Baby Baby’, ‘Jatta Ve’, ‘Circles’, ‘Closer’ amongst others.
Her own music and music videos which have now been released include ‘Chaali Jaan de’ and ‘Vibe’ and have turned out to be one of the most trending songs on Spotify.
On her favourite projects so far, Aman shares that it would have to be ‘Manjay Bistre 2’ because it was shot in Canada and showcased an Indian setting. The entire crew worked together like a family, she says. Her most challenging project was ‘Hobbes & Shaw’ because “It had lots of stunts and topping that with the multicultural crew and language issues made it way more challenging than any other projects I’ve worked on,” she adds.
When asked about her future plans, Bassi says, “I have too many dreams for myself but I really want to direct my own feature film and I’m already working on that.”
“In addition to that, I am working on a new album. This film and album is my way of sharing my story with the world and I’m extremely thrilled to do that. It’s a dream for me to win some of the prominent accolades this industry offers,” she says.
Armaan Chohan joins DFSIN BC
Armaan Chohan has now joined as Vice President of Sales and New Business Development at Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network (DFSIN) BC. DFSIN BC has 7 offices in several locations across BC and a total of 600+ advisors, with the team continuously growing , Armaan will be a great asset to the company as he brings with him a fresh perspective and vision to grow the team at DFSIN BC along with enhancing the current business practices.
Armaan is currently in his first year at Kwantlen Polytechnic University pursuing a Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA) studies and is very actively involved in community activities such as assisting and managing various charitable causes with the Perminder Chohan Foundation. He has successfully hosted and managed blanket drives as well as food drives for the less fortunate for the Foundation in 2018 and 2019. He is also currently working on some new projects for the foundation which will better assist the community at large.
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