Maigan van der Giessen

Top 40 Under 40 2016

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 37

Job Title: Creative Lead & Education Coordinator, John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights

Why She’s Top 40: Through community organizing and hip-hop, she’s busily working to make a better life for Edmonton’s at-risk youth and disenfranchised.

Guilty Pleasure: “Murder,” she says. “I love true crime stories, and hide in the other room with them.”

When Mayor Don Iveson announced a task force for the elimination of poverty in March 2014, Maigan van der Giessen’s ears shot up. Here was a chance for the Youth Action Project, a program she led within the John Humphrey Centre, to have a say in policy that directly affected minors. The education coordinator wrangled together a dozen people under the age 25 from across socioeconomic groups. She helped them write a comprehensive document making policy recommendations to City Council on justice, security, freedom and dignity. Going into its third year, the cohort is busy trying to fix police-youth relations.

This is just one of many ways van der Giessen empowers youth and helps the disenfranchised. She’s orchestrated simulations that teach police and security personnel about the long-term effects of criminalization, a leadership group for at-risk girls and murals interpreting poverty along Alberta Avenue. And that’s just as a community organizer.

As hip-hop artist Tzadeka (an Arabic-Hebrew hybrid meaning “righteous woman”), she helps at-risk girls to sharpen and showcase their rap skills. “It allows them an opportunity to tell their story in a way that’s very real and raw,” says van der Giessen, who’s released several of her own albums and videos. “That art really sustained me when I felt like I didn’t have anyone.”

Prior to her career, van der Giessen was a wild child who’d dropped out of high school to drift across Canada with unsavoury people. It was only after the birth of her daughter Ayaela, now 14, that she found solid ground. As a single mom, she completed a poli-sci degree and dedicated herself to social justice work. “I see myself in the young women I work with,” she says, “but I also see my daughter.”

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