Alumni Spotlight: Amuna Baraka-Clarke (MPPAL '18)

Amuna Baraka-Clarke is Director of Human Resources & Operations at Jane/Finch Centre. She strengthens organizational structures and supports the well-being of managers and front-line workers to sustainably provide service to the community. We discussed her experience at York after going back to school after 25 years to get her Master of Public Policy, Administration and Law (MPPAL), and why she joined the York University Black Alumni Network.

Q: Why did you choose to study at York?
A: I was really excited about the design of York’s School of Public Policy and Administration. Also, when I thought of my values, I had the sense that York was a progressive university.

Q: What's an important lesson you learned during your time here?
A: I completed my undergrad 25 years ago, so going back to school was its own learning experience. This time I developed a professional and social community within my program. So when the strike happened, I had the opportunity to gain perspective from students who crossed the virtual picket line and chose to continue going to class to engage with the ideas and the material. One of the really important learnings for me was how important it is to build community with the students and professors. I had an opportunity to engage with people who were coming from so many different places. There was also an opportunity to look at the different intersections of access to public policy that the program could offer as a career.

Q: What did you benefit from the program?
A: I gained a lot of technical skills while I was in the program, but I also learned to think about what's happening in the larger context and how that impacts systems at various levels. When news would break in Toronto, I took that opportunity to think about what we learned in constitutional law and how that connects with decisions that government makes. We were able to interpret current events and think about the nuances. It really taught me to understand the implications of things that were happening.

Q: What made you want to join the York University Black Alumni Network (YUBAN)?
A: I was not engaged with an alumni network after I earned my undergraduate degree in Montreal; I got my degree in Political Science and English Literature and didn't really look back. But YUBAN can be an influential group if we leverage the expertise of our network. The people that you surround yourself with shape the opportunities that come to you and the opportunities you can provide to others. I think it’s important for a university to engage with the community and for us to engage with the university. The alumni network is one way to do this.

Q: What are you responsible for in your current role?
A: My work is to strengthen HR and operational systems within our organization so we keep functioning effectively. I am doing a lot of research, creating space for conversations and talking to people in different organizations to get a sense of the landscape of how work is happening. I am taking those learnings to make sure that our agency provides a great working environment for employees, service users and is a model for the sector.

Q: Why did you pursue the career that you're in?
A: I've always worked in the not-for-profit sector. I've always been passionate about social justice, but I was trying to figure out how to take those experiences to make change. I also consider public sector work where I can write or inform policy, and bring some community perspectives to government. My career is rooted in social justice values within not-for-profits and finding ways to collaborate with government and policy to make change.

Q: What has it been like since you graduated?
A: It's been amazing. It's been truly amazing. The MPPAL program at York opened my mind. I got to engage with opportunities and perspectives that I hadn't engaged with before. At the end of the program, my Executive Director told me she could tell I was getting ‘itchy’ seeing all the kinds of opportunities there are out there that explore the way I want to experience and impact city building. York helped to further my growth and my development.

Q: What are you hoping for in the future?
A: I'm really looking to expand my impact through HR and policy. I think there's a lot of talk about diversity, inclusion, equity and mental health, but I think that there are ways that we can be more effective. I want to spend some time to think about what that means for us as an agency that employs people and an agency that upholds the values of decent work for everyone.