Words from the Street lets the downtrodden tell their stories (Toronto Star)
Sex-trade worker’s experiences spur winning entry in Words from the Street, revealed Sunday in Regent Park.
By: Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew Business Reporter, Published on Sun Sep 21 2014
Jillann Mignon always knew she had a voice. She just didn’t know if anybody wanted to hear what she had to say.
After spending 11 years as a sex-trade worker, she found the courage to tell her story in a writing contest.
On Sunday, Mignon, 28, read her winning submission “If I was a prostitute at the feet of God” and drew a standing ovation from the crowd in the packed auditorium inDaniels Spectrum, a community hub on Dundas Street E. in Regent Park.
“I feel amazing, blessed and humbled that I got chosen for this wonderful award,” Mignon said in an interview.
The writing contest, called Words from the Street, drew over 100 submissions from free creative-writing workshops held in over 20 shelters and drop-in centres throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
The contest, now in its 13th year, is geared to those in marginalized groups — the homeless, at-risk youth, victims of domestic violence, and the LGBTQ and aboriginal communities.
“It’s not just writing. The whole program has enabled them to express themselves, acknowledge themselves, and honour their voice,” said Susan Turk, executive director Toronto Writers Collective.
“Finding your voice creates huge positive changes. It creates a huge amount of strength.”
The top entries were judged by an acclaimed panel of writers and publishers that included Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden.
Ken Rosser took fifth place with a piece called “Interpretation.”
“Finally people are listening to me,” said Rosser, who is homeless. “It gives me time to think and write and hopefully get off disability and contribute to society.”
Mignon was living in a homeless shelter, trying to turn her life around when signed up for the creative-writing class.
“They wanted to hear from us and they didn’t want us to sugar coat it. I think I already had my voice, but this organization gave us the place to scream it from the rooftops,” she said.
“When you live in these marginalized communities, you carry such a huge burden on your shoulders. Writing is the healthiest way to express yourself. I’m so proud that I made it out alive.”
Mignon attended the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, an eight-week program, that’s designed to help people who are homeless return to school.
She’s now studying to be a community development worker through a program at Centennial College.
Mignon, who has a young son, plans to use the $2,000 prize money from the writing contest to help with a down payment on a place to live. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “It feels like $2 million.”
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God
Is it possible to be a harlot, tramp, whore or prostitute and love God? I’ve asked myself this question many times . . .
You see if I was a prostitute at the feet of God this is what I would do.
I would grace the street corners at night and go home alive by HIS himself wondrous grace.
I would put on my high heels and feel the burn in my feet, walking aimlessly with nowhere to go.
Remembering what they did to HIM, and exactly also what they did to me, the things they want nobody to know or see …
an excerpt from the poem written by Jillann Mignon, grand prize winner in the 13th annual Words from the Street writing contest