Not Your Usual Suspect… Suhail Panjwani
Had he followed his original path it is unlikely that Suhail Panjwani would have found his way to Fort McMurray in 2010. The child of parents who emigrated from India, Suhail was on his way to becoming a doctor when he realized he wanted to follow a different path.
Suhail, now a teacher in the Fort McMurray Public School District and co-founder of Northern Elements Crew, the local hip hop group that has captured the attention of the community, was studying science and chasing basketball dreams when his life altered course and he chose to follow his dreams and pursue education as a career and hip hop as a passion.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, Suhail knew that his parents had struggled to give him the opportunities they wanted him to enjoy, and so initially he followed the path they had chosen for him in medicine. In his third year of University he decided he wanted to become a teacher and embrace what he had always gravitated towards – the sharing of knowledge, otherwise known as teaching. He also began embracing dance, specifically hip-hop.
With a group of friends he founded the first hip-hop group in Kingston, Ontario. Through shows and classes they shared their love of the art, history, and culture of hip hop, creating a new dance community that was fresh and young. When Suhail secured employment in Fort McMurray as a teacher, he brought with him his degree in education – and his passion for dance.
With new friends Jeremy and Jordan, Northern Elements Crew co-founders, Suhail began to develop a new dance culture in a northern community where there was an empty niche waiting to be filled with this art form. Far from just dancing themselves, though, they began to form a group with local youth who were keen to learn more about the culture and art of hip hop.
The group took off rapidly with the support of the FMPSD, Learning Through the Arts and other community groups quickly securing funding, space, and assistance to pursue the development of a local hip hop community. The degree of success has been remarkable with an average of 40 local youth attending the weekly hip-hop sessions held at a local school, and public performances held in local venues.
For Suhail it is all about the youth, and that commitment shines whether he is working as an educator or sharing his love of hip hop. The fundamental guiding principle of Northern Elements Crew is the concept of “each one teach one”, meaning that every person in the group is both student and teacher, with something to learn and something to teach. This forms the basis of the group and has led to the development of a community that is welcoming, supportive, and encouraging as individuals pursue their creative passions.
Suhail shares that initially his parents were not supportive of his choice to leave his original path to follow another, but one would suspect that now they must be very proud to have a son who may not be a doctor but who is having a profound impact on the youth of a northern community, both through his choice of profession as an educator and his passion as a dancer. Suhail may not be the usual suspect, but he has become an important component of the community as he teaches, inspires and encourages local youth and adults alike to follow their dreams, and dance their way through life.