María Cristina Sabourin-Jovel, known better as “Queen María,” is extremely passionate about social justice and mental health accessibility for all. She has dedicated her life to break stereotypes, to make the world a more inclusive place, as well as to fight against racism, ableism, sexism, and fatphobia.
Queen María holds graduate degrees in Mathematics and Economics and taught in the Department of Economics for almost two decades at a university level. She is extremely comfortable speaking in front of large groups as well as facilitating in intimate settings. Queen María identifies as an Afro-Cuban Canadian of mixed heritage, bringing a lot of richness to the team, given her cultural, educational, and ethnic background.
Maria’s love affair with peer-support started during the pandemic becoming an integral part of her healing journey and a powerful tool to deal with racial trauma. As a visible minority woman, she values deeply the opportunities in which she is not judged by how she looks. She works hard to bring accessible workshops to everyone, specially the often “forgotten” populations.
As a peer-support graduate, she is still successfully cofacilitated a weekly virtual ACB (Afro Caribbean Black) support group. Her experience as a facilitator has been very humbling and rich. Peer-support allows for a deeper connection for we all are equally vulnerable together. One gets to know one another in a more equal role. No hierarchies are imposed. She loves sharing with others, listening to different points of views, opening her mind to new ideas and feeling like a student again, a role she has always adored.
Queen Maria believes BIPOC need places where we can talk about our experiences without having to explain further or censure our words. It is particularly important for racialized communities to see people that look like them leading workshops and offering alternative ways to deal with mental health issues as well as the intergenerational trauma and injustices many of us deal with daily. That is what the magic happens.
In these groups we discus the difficulties of living with mental illness, childhood memories, the additional challenges in finding ways to stay grounded, looking for a place in a society that is not constructed for people that look like us, she adds. We also speak about love, losses, dreams, laughs and finding ourselves in this new reality.
Queen María also rediscovered her love for creative writing during the pandemic and has published several of her pieces under this pen name. She was instrumental in setting up three new creative workshops in Ottawa for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) in partnership with the Centretown Community Health Centre and WCC.
Art, music, and writing have all become powerful tools in María’s recovery. She loves to use music in the workshops allowing participants to both relax and reach deep inside, sometimes to places not many have seen or acknowledge before. This work is extremely enriching, and one never knows what to expect. We learn from each other in our healing journey. She also likes to integrate mindfulness and meditation in these weekly groups.
Queen María lives in a large body with mobility restrictions. She decided to make public her struggles with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder in the last decade to destigmatize and bring awareness to mental health fights in racialized communities. She knows firsthand what is to not be heard and is committed to create an environment in which every voice is honoured. She believes changes come from within, one person, one piece of writing/art/sharing/workshop at a time.