By: Estelle Baines
Wali “Flo” Shah, Toronto’s youngest poet laureate, is coming to Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
Shah, an immigrant from Pakistan, grew up in poverty in Canada. After getting involved with gangs in his mid-teens, he found himself under arrest. This was a watershed moment for Shah, He decideto change his life. His quest for a healthy way to express his emotions eventually led him to spoken word poetry.
At just 23, his biography includes sharing a stage with Selena Gomez in front of 18,000 people and freestyling with Kendrick Lamar. He’s given TedTalks. He’s raised millions of dollars for charity. He’s been approached by the Microsoft corporation to write spoken word poetry, and his first rap album spawned the viral hit, “King of the Castle.”
His message is to be yourself, and not to allow people to bully you into what they think you should be.
Shah, who is known for his youth work, will be speaking on mental health and bullying in the Large Lounge at Fulton Montgomery Community College from 12:30 – 2 p.m. on October 19, this is made possible through a grant secured by the Community Mental Health Promotion Team. At 7 p.m. he will return to the Large Lounge for a more informal presentation on Islamophobia.
The team ultimately obtained funding for a three-day schedule, including other presentations at Amsterdam High School, The Academy at Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES and Gloversville High School from October 18-20.
Shah is also planning some informal appearances at venues such as the Creative Connections Clubhouse, this after school plays aims to provides young people with alternatives to drugs and violence.
According to Robin DeVito, FM’s Coordinator of Accessibility Services, the grant was much larger than expected. “Usually the grant is only $1,500,” she explains, “but we got $5,000 this time because of Wali.”
DeVito was celebrating Canada Day in Toronto when she saw Shah perform in Centennial Square. Despite his celebrity, DeVito was struck by Shah’s humility. The famous poet and musician, who collected them in a Mercedes Benz and took them to lunch, also played basketball with her daughter and took an active interest in the youth of the area.
“Everywhere he went, kids would stop and say hello,” she said. “He was just so nice.”