Written by: Priya Balakumar
Athena Narsingh is a Brown Girl Boss changing the lives of everyone she meets. With a passion for fashion and law, Athena is the perfect blend of a true leader. Being one of the very few Indo-Caribbean Lawyers, and law firm owners in the GTA.
Athena comes from a large Indo- Guyanese family. Her mom has 13 siblings and her dad has seven. Like many other minority groups, her parents faced a lot of racial discrimination when they immigrated to Canada in the 70s. Her parents worked hard to raise their children and build a life in a whole new world. Though there were many different ethnicities present at her elementary school, Athena was the only but Indo-Guyanese in her grade. It was not until she entered highschool that Athena was introduced to a larger community of Indo-Caribbean people that looked like her.
This is also where she was able to learn more about herself, her culture and her heritage.
When we asked Athena what it means to her to be Indo-Caribbean, she responded “It means being a part of something amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the racial history of Indo-Caribbean people is not something to be proud of, but it is something to learn from as generations continue on. But our culture, our food, the happiness of our people, the work ethic, the sense of family, is just remarkable.”
Like many Indo-Caribbean women who work in industries that are often dominated by white men, Athena faced various hurdles to get to where she is today. With perseverance and a dream, she successfully runs her own law firm with the hopes of being an influencer in the community and eventually being able to provide pro bono services for those in need.
Many women of colour face the struggle of finding a job after they finish school and are often looked over for someone with a lighter skin tone or an english name. As unfair as this is, it’s surprising how often it happens in various fields of work. Athena explains, “finding employment was probably the biggest struggle coming out of school. I found that I would make it to the last interviews and then the white person would always get selected. When I would look at the staff, everyone else was all white. These experiences often discourage our women and often make them lack confidence in their abilities."
"WE often have to work twice as hard to prove that we belong, especially in a professional career such as Law.”
Athena explains that the discrimination and judgement is often carried into the courthouses as well. She says “In the courthouses, the White males lawyers do not really interact with you. I am not sure what my Indo-Caribbean male counterparts experience, but I get two looks: that exotic look or dismissed. It is definitely not all White lawyers, but I definitely feel the separation. I find even the white female lawyers try to bully you. Again, not all. I have met some remarkable white female lawyers that I am friends with to this day.”
As we continue to navigate these obstacles, we are helping to create a more accessible future for the next generation.
Being a Brown Girl Boss is all about standing up for who you are and what you believe in. It is about taking the reins and making the changes that you wish you saw growing up. It is all about being the change maker and being proud of your roots. When we asked Athena what she has learned from being one of very few Indo-Caribbean female Lawyers that own their own firm, she explained, “I learned that it was not easy, but it was worth it. And to make sure you know your value. Don’t let anyone belittle you as a woman of colour. Having my own firm gave me the opportunity to change all things I hated about the traditional legal field.”. While growing up, Athena saw a lot of problems with the current legal system and how people of colour were treated. She used her passion for law and equality to start her own law firm with an aim to change the way it interacted with the Indo-Caribbean community. As Athena said “It is okay to not fit the bill. Change the game.”
Athena is a true Brown Girl Boss and community leader. After experiencing various forms of discrimination throughout her career, Athena has taken it upon herself to give back to her community by providing pro bono legal services to individuals within her community. She also hosts free legal information sessions in low-income areas. Athena’s leadership is truly admirable as there are very few professionals in her field that provide these accessible and affordable legal services to the Indo-Caribbean community. A leader that gives back is one that is truly successful in life. Athena has also taken the initiative to try and provide employment opportunities to individuals of colour in hopes that they do not face the same negative experiences that she faced. Athena uses her platform to pave the way for the next generation by giving opportunities to individuals who may not receive them anywhere else solely based on where they come from and what they look like.
We can change the game. That’s what I set out to do, and that is what I intend to do. Change the way the laws do not accurately reflect cultural differences. Change the way other lawyers treat us. Change what we can.
A Brown Girl Boss is someone who is always looking for ways to improve themselves and grow both intellectually and professionally. When we asked Athena where she sees herself in five years, she said, “In an ideal world, my law firm would grow to the point where I would have maybe a small staff of 5 individuals, and have a daycare in the office so that my staff can bring their children to work and not pay for daycare services. I would have clients from all backgrounds, because I strongly believe in being versatile and understanding different cultural needs that the traditional legal system does not recognize.”
Athena's passion for helping others in need, primarily in underrepresented communities, such as the Indo-Caribbean community makes her a true Brown Girl Boss. Athena says that her biggest accomplishment to date is, “Being a better version of myself every day. I am constantly reflecting on who I am as a person, as a friend, as a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a lawyer and how I can be a better version of myself. And I think my biggest accomplishment is learning how to constantly do that in a healthy way.”.
Indo-Caribbean women hold the power to make changes while embracing their culture and history.
We are the ones who will open the doors for the next generation, and give them the opportunities that we never had. Athena says that her favorite thing about being an Indo-Caribbean woman is “The kind of energy we bring as Indo-Caribbean women. Our history, our culture, our family, make us the light-hearted, fun-going, strong women we are, and you can see it in the way we love our families, our friends, our work, and even our fetes.”. Athena is a well rounded role model for Indo-Caribbean women in our community. From showing us that nothing is impossible, to finding innovative ways to give back to her community, Athena is the definition of a true Brown Girl Boss.