I’ve been lucky to have been guided by some incredible people on my journey. On Saturday, the world lost MJ, Mary-Jo Nadeau, who was one of the best.
I met MJ about 20 years ago through Palestinian solidarity work. She was a founder of key Palestinian solidarity groups like Faculty for Palestine, and a fixture within the Palestinian solidarity movement. She bravely commanded hostile spaces with her power and principles. Yet, at the same time, she did not take up space – she always lifted up and centred young Palestinian voices, especially women, new to this work. She was a teacher, but didn’t lecture. Her lessons were learned by watching her work so hard for what she believed. And that I did.
I will never forget our first road trip together to Windsor for a CUPE divestment/BDS vote. She asked me to give a presentation on international law and BDS, as a hostile mob gathered on the other side of the windows of the hotel. It was probably my first presentation out of law school. I was very nervous, but MJ was there by my side with reassuring words. The resolution passed. It was a momentous milestone in Palestinian organizing and she played a big role in it.
Years later, MJ was there cheering us on as we launched the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF). She not just cheered but really showed up as our champion with her 10-Card in hand, encouragement, and a warm hug and an infectious laugh when things didn’t go as planned. When I programmed, she was the audience person in my head I was trying to please – someone engaged, critical and a true fan. MJ never hesitated to have the Faculty for Palestine co-present at TPFF. She was always willing to help.
After her diagnosis, understandably MJ couldn’t be at every Palestinian event. Her presence was missed, but also so greatly appreciated when you saw she was there. I found myself instinctively scanning a room to see if she was present – and I was so excited when she was. And it was not just me who was pleased to see her, so many others surrounded her for a quick catch up.
Between those in-person meet-ups there were always MJ’s Facebook posts to keep you going. I loved reading her posts – she was a great writer, had impeccable taste, had sharp critiques and analysis. She found and shared beauty in her surroundings, even the pigeons on her window sill, and I found it made me appreciate the little things in life. I learned and discovered so much from those posts, committed myself over and over to her words on solidarity and social justice and challenging establishment and privilege. It was also through those posts we saw how bravely, honestly she battled cancer – her scars, stories and humour left us speechless but in awe of MJ’s experiences. She even noted the injustices in the healthcare system she depended on.
MJ’s ginormous spirit, positivity, energy allowed me to believe Saturday would never come. I sought comfort in denial. And I am still processing her loss. But that’s not how MJ lived and I respected her for that. So with the grief, comes the celebration of a dear comrade and friend who gave us so much in her time. And the utter appreciation and gratitude that she was a part of my life, and the Palestinian community, for so long and did so much for us. I will forever carry her lessons in my heart and in my mind in carrying on the work she started. Love you and miss you MJ.
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