Mustafa Ahmed, also known as Mustafa The Poet, is the rose that grew out of Toronto’s Regent Park concrete. High school students, community officials and long time followers fill Daniel’s Spectrum theatre on a cold, winter Wednesday evening in celebration of Ahmed’s debut spoken word project. Growing up in one of North America’s largest housing projects is the source of inspiration of the seven-piece poetry collection.

“I want to thank the Regent Park community because that is where the narratives came from,” shares Ahmed with the audience.

That same community he refers to is gathered, showing major support of the 17-year-old’s performance. The room is filled with people proud of the achievements of Ahmed.

A couple of women, speaking amongst themselves, reminisce about hearing Ahmed speaking for the first time at the Nelson Mandela Park Public School when he was 12 years old. Right beside them, a group of high school girls debate on the best ways to learn to be well spoken like Ahmed.

“Mustafa is a beautiful writer and it’s natural for him,” says David Delisca, a fellow spoken word artist. “He’s not a person that writes with a pen with one hand and a dictionary in the other, those words naturally flow through him with urgency. His heart is truly the pen and his signature is etched with sincerity.”

As the music starts to fade, the conversations die down and the show starts.

Dressed casually in a black cardigan, blue jeans and a pair of clean Jordans, Ahmed steps onto the stage filled with excitement and gratitude. He possesses a meek confidence and humour that makes the crowd feel comfortable.

The two highlight performances of the night are of “Dreams” and “Invisible Disabilities”. “Dreams” speaks to youth that aspire for a better future despite discouragement from family and friends. Ahmed dedicates the poem to the people who didn’t understand his passion for writing and performing spoken word. He shares the hardships of trying to hold onto a valuable goal without having a support system from those closest to him. He talks about the importance of how writing got him through a range of issues he had to deal with and how it got him to that stage.

“A dream is the one thing that can keep you moving forward, especially when you’re living in an inner city community. If your dream is strong enough, it can overpower any force,” says Ahmed.

“Invisible Disabilities” is also about being misunderstood. The poem is inspired by a friend’s sibling who has schizophrenia, a mental disability that leaves an individual unable to properly communicate, leading to what is often perceived as bizarre behavior. Ahmed talks about mental illness and its effects on many people in the community, and the fact that it is overlooked, because it is an unseen disability. He explains that when a person breaks their leg, they are given crutches and that is how society perceives that individual as hurt or unable to walk. But when it comes to mental disabilities there is no physical indicator of how the person is hurting.

“It’s something you can’t see, so it’s easy to judge,” says Ahmed. “You don’t see crutches, you don’t see band aids, you don’t see casts.”

With his words, Mustafa takes the audience on a ride through the internal battle of a person with a mental illness, touching on subjects of the insults of bullies, the struggle of acceptance and the illusions of past tragedies.

Throughout the night Ahmed performs all seven spoken word pieces and also surprises the crowd with his ability to sing. After performing his last piece, he receives a standing ovation, gaining approval of his collection. He quickly joins the crowd embracing and taking pictures with fans.

Words By. Moreblessing Munangwa + Photos By. Candace Nyaomi