Mississauga man turning adversity into inspiration

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Wali Shah is 22, a poet and an inspirational speaker. But life wasn’t always this good for Shah because at the age of 15 he was facing assault charges and jail time.

“This was a combination of growing up here in Canada as an immigrant youth and also not having the right role models and mentors around me,” Shah said.

“As someone that has always been very influenced by hip hop culture and always wanting to fit in, and be one of the cool boys growing up, I remember that just lead me down a path that was turbulent.”

Instead of running away from his past, he embraced it and managed to turn his life around at the age of 19 with the help of his high school teachers.

“I give credit to two angels blessed by god, Miss Riley and Miss Macintosh – two teachers that sort of took my hand and said, ‘We believe in you and you are an amazing person, and you can get through this.’”

Today Shah attends the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus to study social sciences while giving back to the community by sharing his story.

“My message is about mental health and bullying. It’s not just, ‘Oh you’re fat or you’re skinny or you’re too short.’ It’s something that encompasses religious bullying and racial bullying,” he said.

“As a young Pakistani-Muslim, I really want to shed light on that element of my story. I want people to know that there is a young Muslim person in the news for a good reason.”

Three years ago Shah was named ‘Top 20 Under 20,’ a prestigious national award recognizing his achievements as a motivational speaker, poet and someone who took those turbulent years and turned those experiences into something positive.

Although Shah’s parents wanted him to become a lawyer or a doctor, they cannot believe what he has accomplished.

“When I got up on a stage and I had a mic in my hand and I was sharing my poetry … I felt bliss, and that was something I couldn’t let anyone take from me,” Shah said.

“Now my parents look at it and they can’t believe it you know. My mom will see this on Global and she’ll be like, ‘That’s my son!’”

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