Growing up in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, Sarah Mazhero, BA 21, witnessed how food insecurity, housing shortages and discrimination affected the Indigenous community.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Mazhero’s parents moved to Canada to explore new opportunities. They lived in Whitehorse and then moved to Nunavut in 2000 to fill nursing and teaching positions.
As a child, Mazhero was keenly aware of the racism her mother and father faced in Canada. At age 11, Mazhero joined her older brothers in Montreal to continue her education. Sadly, she too ultimately endured discrimination at a point in time.
“For example, during the Pauline Marois [Quebec premier from 2012 to 2014] era, my driving instructor told me, ‘You immigrants do not know how to drive,’” recalls Mazhero. “In reality, I was born in Vancouver, I am Canadian. It made me realize the issues immigrants face when it comes to systemic racism within Quebec society.”
As distressing as these experiences were, they also fostered Mazhero’s empathy and compassion for victims of injustice, and inspired her to advocate for minority rights — most recently as a new member of the Prime Minister's Youth Council.
The non-partisan committee is comprised of 10 Canadians between the ages of 16 and 24 who advise the prime minister and Government of Canada on issues affecting the country, their respective communities and peers. Members meet several times annually via Zoom and take turns presenting an issue of their choice to the team. They also offer perspectives on various topics and participate in local and national organizations.
In non-pandemic times, the group gathers in person at cities nationwide. Members also meet policy-makers and attend events. Mazhero is hopeful that live gatherings will resume and is excited about the prospect of meeting cabinet ministers and other officials.
Over the course of her two-year mandate, which ends in 2023, Mazhero will focus on anti-racism, a cause dear to her heart.
“I see myself becoming a lawyer and advocating for minorities in order to combat issues of systemic racism, whether it's with Black or Indigenous people, or any minority,” she says. “I'm also a minority and can sympathize with a lot of these things. That’s why I applied to the Youth Council.”
‘It was my role to be there for students’
It’s also why Mazhero chose to get involved with the Concordia Student Union (CSU).
From 2020 to 2021, Mazhero served full-time on the CSU’s executive as academic and advocacy coordinator, where she represented the undergraduate student population in interactions with the university’s administration and the community at large.
She also oversaw the CSU’s Student Advocacy Centre, Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO) and Legal Information Clinic (LIC).
“I provided legal information pertaining to renters’ and employees’ rights,” she says. “I often spoke before L’Office de consultation publique de Montréal about the racism and systemic discrimination many students face when it comes to housing.
“I also helped with issues pertaining to immigration, students wishing to stay in Quebec after graduation and victims of sexual violence. I became immersed in the field of advocacy through my involvement with the CSU.”
Mazhero did all of this while juggling a full course load as a Department of Political Science major pursuing minors in First Peoples Studies, Law and Society and Psychology.
“My role was to be there for the students,” she says. “It was a very interesting time — the pandemic shifted how we think about education. I was also there during the pivotal Black Lives Matter protests and helped navigate the experiences of Black students at Concordia. For me it's always about trying to understand others and get different perspectives.”
Inspired by her work at the CSU
Reflecting on her student experience, Mazhero is indebted to her colleagues for their mentorship.
“The people I worked with helped mould me into the person that I am. Walter Tom, the CSU Legal Information Clinic coordinator, and Leanne Ashworth [BFA 00, BA 10], coordinator of the Housing and Job Resource Centre, really helped me to figure out that advocacy is something that I can pursue as a career,” she says.
“I will forever be grateful to them for having shown me what it’s like to be an advocate and for enabling me to learn about and get involved with critical issues facing different members of society.”
Currently, Mazhero works at Airbnb as a regulatory response associate, investigating cases of potential discrimination. While she’s applying to law school, Mazhero isn’t ruling out a career in politics — something many people, including her brothers, believe she would excel at.
“It’s a possibility,” she says. “I'm never going to say no. You never know what the future brings.”