New author in biggest fight of his life
April 5, 2018
When Jamil Jivani checked into North York General Hospital’s emergency department on Family Day last February with flu-like symptoms and severe neck pain, he thought he would have been discharged a few hours later with antibiotics and told to take some rest.
The diagnosis, however, was much more devastating.
“After several tests, the doctor sat me down in a room, looked at me and started to cry,” Jivani recalled. “Right away, I knew that wasn’t a good thing.”
He has Stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma that has grown into his spine, causing neck and back fractures.
“I was sideswiped by what she told me,” admitted Jivani. “I had meetings scheduled for later that day and other things to get done, and then to be sucker punched with the bad news that I have cancer was gut-wrenching.”
He developed the flu-like symptoms last October just after celebrating his 30th birthday.
“It persisted, but I didn’t think much of it,” Jivani said. “I figured those were some of the aches that come with turning 30.”
When the neck pain started and he sought medical help, doctors advised that he had a pulled muscle and prescribed painkillers.
Though in the biggest fight of his life, the Yale Law School graduate and grassroots community worker is convinced he will win the battle.
He has a lot on his plate and intends to honour most of the commitments while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
Jivani’s first book was launched last Tuesday at the Toronto Reference Library.
‘Why Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity’ is an exploration of race, class and hopelessness that drive male youths to violence and radicalization.
The trigger for the book was the November 2015 Paris attacks that claimed 130 lives.
“I had just started teaching at Osgoode Hall Law School and I wanted to do some research,” the eldest of three children said. “There are young men in European neighbourhoods where there is terrorism and I wanted to find out if they are dealing with similar issues that we have in Canada and the United States where there are gangs. I wanted to spend time with young people over there and look at their lives. To be honest, I really didn’t know what this project was going to turn into. It could have been an academic paper or something I would talk about in a university setting. All I knew was that there were some good stories to tell.”
Jivani, who spent a summer working for Mayor Cory Booker in Newark and at the New York City law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz while he was at Yale where he received several recognitions for his commitment to public service, chose to travel to Belgium which is a breeding ground for international terrorists.
“The young men that organized the terrorist attacks were around the same age as me and they were from Belgium,” he said. “When I started to read about the neighbourhoods they were from, I found that the immigrant population is high, there are many high school drop outs, youth unemployment is on the rise and far too many of these young people don’t feel connected to their country. It sounded similar to places I have lived and worked in like Jane & Finch and parts of Brampton where I grew up. I figured I might as well go to Belgium so that I might be able to connect the dots.”
His only previous visit to Europe was during the Christmas holidays in 2014 to Ireland to reconnect with maternal family members.
With the help of a few community organizations in Belgium, Jivani headed to the Western European country in February 2016.
“They told me if I come, they would provide accommodation and allow me to volunteer with them,” the former Children’s Aid Society of Toronto vice-chair noted. “By doing that, they said I could learn about what they do at the centres that serve Muslim youth. They were at a time when they wanted to tell their story because they felt their community was misunderstood and stereotyped because of the Paris attacks.”
Jivani wrote the book hoping that young men and the adults in their lives might better understand each other.
“What I ask of anyone who reads this book is to look at the young men in these pages with the intention of understanding them just as you might try to understand your son, brother or father,” said Jivani who graduated from York University after transferring from Humber College where he was a 2006 President’s medal winner. “If you can view them in this way, you may just find that this book will help you better understand the young men in your life too. I think there are a lot of issues that are negatively affecting young men. We have fewer role models, fewer jobs and fewer young men pursuing post-secondary education.
“…I hope it helps to make it easier for people to talk about young men as a group that’s in need. Culturally, we are at a point where we are not comfortable saying, ‘Yes, our young men have some serious issues and we need to do something about it’. It usually takes a tragedy like a shooting, a terrorist attack or some horrible thing for us to turn our attention to our young men.”
He took a leave of absence from York University’s Osgoode Law School where he’s a visiting professor to spend almost four months in Belgium.
Lorne Sossin was the law school dean at the time.
“He’s kind of one of the hidden heroes in this story,” said Jivani who created a course – Community Organizing and the Law – with help from Torys LLP when he was an articling student. “The book wouldn’t have been possible without his support. He saw value in what I was trying to do and he knew that I was trying to answer questions that are important enough that he was willing to give me the space and time to go out and do the work. It was comforting for me to that I always had a home to come back to in Toronto. His support was integral.”
The last six weeks have been extremely humbling for Jivani whose 2014 TEDx Toronto talk, ‘How racial profiling hurts everyone, including the police’, has been viewed nearly 124,000 times.
“It has shown me that you can have all the plans, but you are not the only one that determines your steps,” he said. “Your body has to co-operate and you have to take care of it. I feel so lucky and blessed that I have been able to write my story and write about other young men. That’s already on paper and whatever happens to me, people will learn from the life I have lived up to this point. Hopefully, there will be a young person out there who will learn from my story and live a better life. There is something greater than me that I am leaving on this earth regardless of what happens to me. There are not many 30-year-olds that get to say that. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I just feel very lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity.”
After returning from Yale, Jivani co-ordinated the launch of the Policing Literacy Initiative (PLI) that’s modelled after the Yale Law School Innovations in Policing Clinic. It’s a youth-driven grassroots think-thank committed to improving policing services and community safety through public education and advocacy projects.
He also co-produced the PLI documentary – Crisis of Distrust: Police and Community in Toronto – that premiered in 2015 at Toronto City Hall.
One of 25 rising city leaders selected for the 2013-14 DiverseCity fellowship, Jivani co-founded ‘Teachers Beyond the Classroom’ that’s a resource to help teachers college graduates apply their skill set outside of a teaching role. He’s the director of law and policy at Our Ohio Renewal which is a non-profit organization founded to develop solutions to issues raised in J.D Vance’s bestselling memoir, ‘Hillbilly Elegy’.
Jivani spent the summer of 2009 teaching English, History, Math and Business at a boarding school for homeless and orphaned youth in Nairobi, Kenya. It was his second trip in three years to the East African country which is the birthplace of his father, Ismat Jivani, who is a master chef in Mexico.
In October 2014, Jivani was honoured on his 28th birthday with the Young Lawyer of the Year Award by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.