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Season 1, Episode 3

Disrupting the Status Quo in Public Health

November 22, 2022

Samiya Abdi has trained thousands of public health practitioners to recognize the power that each of us has to do something different in the face of health inequities and injustice. Samiya has worked at Public Health Ontario since 2015. She is a community leader, a Black and visibly Muslim woman, and a mother from an under-resourced community in Toronto. Listen to this episode to hear Samiya’s story: how she’s learned that all these parts of her identity – wearing all her different hijabs – and her strong ties to her communities contribute to her public health expertise; and how she cultivates creative discontent in herself and others to challenge the status quo of persistent health inequities and injustice. Later in the episode, we hear from Heather Lokko, a public health nurse of over 25 years and the Chief Nursing Officer at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, who champions health equity with intentionality, kindness and persistence. In this episode, you’ll hear from Samiya and Heather – two seasoned public health professionals working at the provincial and local levels – about how to transform public health practice, teams, organizations, and systems from within to support more equitable communities and societies.


Samiya Abdi

Samiya Abdi is seconded for a year to lead the Black Health Education Collaborative (BHEC) as an Executive Director. Over the past 15 years Samiya has been working towards making the public health system more equitable, challenging intersecting forms of oppression, and understanding marginalization in knowledge production, research, and practice. Prior to joining BHEC Samiya was the Senior Program Specialist in Health Equity for Public Health Ontario. Samiya also possesses extensive experience in community engagement work, has co-founded international movements such as the Somali Gender Equity Movement and Famine Resisters alongside local initiatives such as Aspire2Lead and the Toronto Muslim Youth Political fellowship.  Samiya is the winner of The Lori Chow Award for exceptional leadership.  The winner of Woman of the Year Award and the MAX Woman of the Year Award. She holds a Master’s in public health and a graduate diploma in social innovation and systems thinking. She is also a graduate of the School of Social Entrepreneurs, a Global Fellow with the League of Intrapreneurs and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader. In 2022 Samiya was selected to participate In the Governor General Canadian Leadership Conference in the Northwest Territories and The Global Diplomacy Lab.

Heather Lokko

Reflective guest Heather Lokko has been a direct service provider, professional practice lead, program manager, and senior leader during her public health career. She is currently the Director of the Healthy Start Division at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. Additionally, she is MLHU’s Chief Nursing Officer. In this role, Heather leads health equity strategy, promotes practice excellence, and provides nursing leadership in local, regional, provincial, and national initiatives. Heather is the Community Co-Director of Western University’s Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion, is on the board of directors for the London Intercommunity Health Centre and is an Adjunct Research Professor at Western University. Heather is passionate about health equity, collective action, and building healthy families and communities.

Episode Credits

This episode is produced by Rebecca Cheff, Carolina Jimenez, and our host Bernice Yanful (NCCDH). Tia (Kristia) Maatta (NCCDH) helped with editing and Mandy Walker (NCCDH) helped with guest interviews for this episode. Special thanks to our episode guests Samiya Abdi and Heather Lokko. Coordination of communications, webpage development and dissemination are led by Caralyn Vossen (NCCDH). Thanks to Claire Betker and the rest of the NCCDH team for their support. Technical production and original music by Chris Perry. Artwork by comet art + design.