Paige Farah grew up in the North End, near Mulgrave Park. But even as a kid understood and felt the discrimination against her neighhourhood.
“Growing up, I had friends growing up in Mulgrave Park, when they were 15 and 16 and applying for jobs, people
would see their address…and they would realize it was in Mulgrave Park, this public housing neighbourhood, and there would be this sort of uneasiness,” she says. “When some of my friends told me that, it really bothered me.”
Now Farah is giving back to her community through Progress in the Park, a community-development project that uses entrepreneurship and mentorship to bring the neighbourhood together.
The group and residents in Mulgrave Park have built a community garden and playground, and created a program that gives bikes to kids in the community. A mentorship program called Progress KIDS provides programs for youth that teach entrepreneurial skills, kindness, independence, dedication, and self-awareness.
You grew up near Mulgrave Park and now you work there. What have you learned about the community?
I am not the same person I was when I started this group 2.5 years ago. As a kid, I didn’t really think that much of it…That was before the hipsterficiation and gentrification of the North End. Now I can say I grew up in the North End and people would say, “That’s great!”… It wasn’t a matter of just a discrimination against Mulgrave Park. It really did trickle down into that part of the North End. As a kid I didn’t have the words to put to my experiences. But I did realize I was different. I did hear parents saying to their kids they weren’t comfortable having their child hang out with me, especially in my neighbourhood. Now I understand the socioeconomic, political aspect of it. I understand the history now, but as a child it was these one-off experiences for me.
How has your own perception of the area changed?
The things you learn coming from the bottom and overcoming something, you can’t learn in school, you can’t learn in a textbook. And yet, we’re very hesitant to write the reality of those experiences and those challenges into our politics or our public policy or our government programs…I love Mulgrave Park and communities like it because it’s real. You don’t have to go in and try to be someone you’re not. That was very empowering for me because I’ve always struggled in traditional educational systems. People respect me because I am willing to put in the work and I respect them because they are willing to put in the work to get what needs to be done.
Has this experience changed your understanding of what a community is?
Absolutely. It’s not so much that I didn’t realize there were different kinds of communities. It’s that I now realize the role that those communities play in overlapping one another and leaning on one another to lend their strengths to their communities and giving back. It’s way more of a cycle or how we play off one another and the vital role that plays. It’s more so about the characters and values behind that establishment.
What do residents of Mulgrave Park and the rest of the city need to do understand each other better?
I believe we are, as low- to middle-class people, facing a collective depression, a collective disparity, whether we realize it or not. We need to wake up that…and not come at it by being malicious or vengeful toward people who have more than us. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for people who had more than me and who believed in my ability to grow as a person and do great things…The kind of dualities that exist in the North End right now [bother] me every day. We are really forgetting about the people who have lived there and have made
this their home. I would really love to see the housing authority be able to move away from being a landlord to tenants who need public housing. We really need to start seeing the value in housing structures like this without isolating it. It needs to be mixed income, diverse. It’s really hard for me to see some of these politicians or people in high roles with the housing authority who really see we need to make a shift, but who are still held back by old agreements or old policy.
In the name Progress in the Park, what does progress mean to you? Is that economic progress? Social progress? Personal progress?
All of the above. But since starting that group I’ve become aware of how there are negative connotations to the term. People think you are saying you have to change who you are and be better and match what’s new
and flashy, and to “get with it” and understand condos are the way of the future. We really need to understand we are never not going to have people who need to lean on public housing or social assistance. Life happens to everyone. Things still need to be in place so people don’t have to uproot and change their life. Progress to me is a greater awareness of what could be done and moving forward collectively opposed to individually. It’s taking into account what will be lost when something new comes in.
What do you love about the community?
Everybody knows everybody. If someone in the community falls ill or has a family member going through a hard time, they do not miss a beat. But it’s also how outgoing and curious the kids are. Because the community really raises the kids, they’re not inside stuck on video games, and they aren’t shy. They are used to being around adults. It’s way more inclusive than that. Personally, I feel I can walk into that community and not feel pressure to conform. I feel I can be very open about the struggles I face day to day. I don’t feel like people are gesturing to me out of an obligation to express sympathy. I feel like people are like yeah, that happens. They’re not pushing you to have to do more and get over it and do it. I feel like it’s coming from beyond a place of theatrics. It’s real.