21 Questions with Allison Hector-Alexander

April 23, 2021

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Allison Hector-Alexander is first and foremost, a mom, a Canadian by immigration, an avid reader, and a self-proclaimed great cook. She is also an equity and inclusion specialist with over 15 years of experience in creating and leading policy, education, and training in anti-racism, anti-oppression, allyship, and equity.

She is the Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with the Region of Durham. Her most recent work experience was as the Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Durham College.

In 2018, Allison co-presented at the Black Portraiture Conference at Harvard University on Critical Race Theory, specifically, anti-Black racism. Earlier in 2018, she led a group of colleagues to launch the Black Student Success Network on campus. This initiative continues to provide opportunities for mentoring, networking, and overall support to Black students and employees. In 2019, Allison co-chaired the first Social Justice Week at the College which provided opportunities for students, staff, and community members to engage in relevant equity-related topics. She was also the first coordinator of the Women’s Centre and Campus Food Centre on the campuses of Durham College and Ontario Tech University.


She has been recognized with the Champion Award by PFLAG Canada Durham Region for work in creating inclusive spaces and by the Region of Durham with the Diversity Champion award. In 2019, she was also awarded the Madiba award!


Her most notable achievement, however, is that of being a mom. “Everything that I do, and achieve is because of my littles. They love me fiercely and keep me grounded. I am because of them”, she insists.


With an education background focusing on anti-oppressive practices, access, and equity in Higher Education, along with her many achievements, we couldn’t have picked a more inspiring BIWOC community member and educator to interview for our new “21 Question Interview” series.


1) What is your connection to Durham Region?

I have lived in Durham for the last 16 years. Before moving to the region, I worked in Durham for a little over three years.

2) What does being a womxn of colour mean to you?

Being a womxn of colour means everything to me. It is my strength, my compassion, my resilience, my joy, my style, my spice, and my essence.

3) What inspires you?

Doing my part to create a place of belonging for my children is what inspires me. My work, advocacy, community involvement, volunteerism – all of it is so there is more kindness and love for them.

4) Who do you look up to?

My grandma. She is no longer with us but I want to believe that a lot of the woman I am and my accomplishments are because of her influence on my life.

5) Who is your favourite artist?

Beres Hammond.

6) What is one piece of media (book, film, music) that changed your life?

The Colour Purple. I think this is where my sense of feminism started. I also feel that this is where my interest in supporting survivors of violence and abuse came from.

7) What is your favourite food?

Pelau – West Indian Style.

8) What is your favourite spot in Durham?

Chatterpaul’s.

9) What do you do to relax and unwind?

A long hot bath or a walk near the lake.

10) Describe your perfect day.

A lazy Saturday. No formal plans, house cleaned, children are happy, everyone is fed, in pajamas all day, Beres in the background, all snacks are a go – day is wrapped up with a movie under our living room fort.

11) What’s one thing that you love about yourself?

I have learned to love my height. I hated my height as a teenager. I was always the tallest kid in class and got teased quite a bit for that. I have embraced my height and have learned how to “own” spaces because of my height.

12) What words or sayings do you live by?

“It is okay to love someone from a distance. Creating distance for the sake of your mental wellness doesn’t’ mean you don’t love the person; it just means that you choose you.”

13) What is your favourite part of what you do for a living?

My favourite part of doing this work is being a support, resource, advocate for my community. Creating opportunities, connections, and spaces that support development for members of community.

Another area that makes the work worth it is the unlearning and learning that happens for someone either in conversation or training. The realization and ownership of bad behaviour and engaging in the work to do better is one of my favourite parts of my work.

14) What is the most challenging part of what you do for a living?

The denial of systems that continue to oppress and limit access to opportunities for marginalized or racialized communities. This denial creates inaction. Inaction by those with power to disrupt a system that continues to harm, deny access or participation is the most challenging part of this work.

15) How did it feel stepping into your new role as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Region of Durham and what type of impact do you hope to make?

There were so many emotions. Excited, anxious, positive, nervous, optimistic, proud, and motivated.

My hope is to engage both employees and community to dialogue, learn, unlearn, and collectively acknowledge systemic “ism” and work to dismantle/disrupt these systems. It is important to me that the community recognizes the power of their voice and lived experiences and that these voices are centered when we create policies, legislation, initiatives, and opportunities.

This is longer term, but the impact I hope to make is that we learn/unlearn how we build. We don’t create and then invite folks to be part of what we’ve built without inviting them to the table. Inclusion, capital I, means we are co-creating from the start and where folks feel a genuine sense of belonging.

16) In one word, how would you describe your relationship with Durham Region?

Complicated.

17) As a Black woman navigating a new space, how do you ensure that you are setting healthy boundaries between your work and life?

I remind myself to be intentional about creating boundaries. My work is very important to me but my family is my number one priority. I am learning to disconnect when I am not working. My health (emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical) is also a top priority. I am learning to take time to feel feelings – acknowledge hurt, confront it, and work to heal.  I am no good to anyone if I don’t maintain that balance.

18) What are your thoughts on the last two anti-Black racism town halls and do you believe they will lead to change?

I think the town halls are a starting point in the work that must be done to acknowledge and disrupt systems that continue to perpetrate anti-Black racism in the region. While Black community members had an opportunity to share their experiences and be heard, there were many other community members, who after learning of these experiences of anti-Black racism, continued to deny that racism exists here in Durham.

Change can start with the many community members who learned about their neighbours’ and colleagues’ everyday experiences of anti-Black racism in Durham. Many people have said they want to be allies. Those folks who want to be genuine allies and are committed to unlearning and relearning can effect some change. Their voice counts in creating change. They have a responsibility to make change.

The change that I envision will come as we continue to have these conversations and take what we learn in these conversations to do better. To build and create better. We cannot ask folks to speak about their trauma and not do anything about it. That is where real change will come. It will come when the trauma is acknowledged, owned and we work to change the policies, processes and systems that reinforce that trauma. It will come when our actions are responsive to the needs of the Black community. Change will come when we prioritize Black voices to inform how we build community.

19) Census information shows that there is an increasing BIPOC population in Durham, but as many of us know, there are limited community/culturally specific resources. How do we go about advocating for ourselves and our needs?

We use the census data and we advocate for those resources. We use the data to formally highlight the gaps. We organize as a collective and we advocate to every level of government for funding, resources, and support. We position ourselves so that we apply for the many funding opportunities that are out there. We show up and we participate on committees and taskforces. We support/challenge community members who are involved in politics to advance our needs. We leverage the shift to virtual everything. We start to build virtual community/culturally specific hubs and leverage that capacity to demand additional resources.

20) What would you say to your younger self, knowing what you know now?

You will have opportunities to do good things in this world, don’t be scared or intimidated. You are enough and have enough to offer, to contribute. Walk in there with your head held high and cause good trouble.

21) Fill in the blank: 2021 is the year to ________.

2021 is the year to resist, renew and be resilient.


Photo: Tara Sottile, The Chronicle (source)

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