The Chosen Khan Advocates for Empathy in Surrey

Through social media, Abubakar Khan continues his family’s activism

Abubakar Khan is the face of The Chosen Khan, a collective of community members and advocates from Metro Vancouver. (Alyssa Laube)

Abubakar Khan, known more famously on social media as The Chosen Khan, grew up surrounded by empaths, immigrants, and activists.

His great uncle built the first mosque in B.C. His grandfather pulled together the multicultural community in Greater Vancouver and witnessed the Komagata Maru incident. And when it came for Khan’s time to get involved in advocacy, he started by having a face-to-face conversation with a stranger every day.

Over the past two years, he estimates that he has done this with about 700 people.

“We look at inheritance and think that money is inherited. I don’t think we really understand that influence can be inherited as well,” he says. “If you leave a mark [on someone], if you have a connection, your network continues to expand and you end up doing things that are much bigger than your original vision.”

One example of that is his podcast, also entitled The Chosen Khan, which developed out of the conversations he had during these meetings. Rather than attempting to tell their stories for them, he decided to invite these people onto the show to share their experience firsthand.

“I’m having all of these interesting conversations and I can’t keep them to myself,” he says. “I’m listening to a woman talk about how she was sexually abused by her uncle or someone in her household. I’m listening to a guy who’s saying, ‘Man, I’m completely addicted to alcohol.’”

“I’m not here to speak on other people’s behalf. I’m here to listen.”

According to Khan, covering sensitive subjects like this has been an opportunity to bring people together in a city that he considers to be largely divided. A major part of his work is striving to get rid of the “echo chambers” within each municipality and community.

“You have the Sikh communities that hang out with each other. Even within the Sikh community you have divides. You have the Muslim community,” he says. “There are all these divides. What I do is I work on building those bridges, make people get on the same page and say, ‘Christian, Jew, Hindu, whatever you are, we have the same problems.’”

Beyond spreading awareness, he and his team have been working for years to make a physical difference in the community as well.

In 2016, when opioid overdose deaths were starting to rise exponentially, they opened up his grandfather’s mosque during the winter to give out care packages to those in need. When that got international attention online, he started planning awareness campaigns—for instance, Khan spent a week living on the streets of UBC. They created a charity for refugee children and regularly attend rallies and protests around Vancouver.

Regardless of the medium it’s executed through, talking publicly about ideas that are often swept under the rug is at the core of The Chosen Khan. Doing this through content creation is what he feels is the best approach in a generation that’s impacted heavily by what they see in the media.

Recently, he used this approach to start a conversation about gang violence in Surrey.

On June 4, Jaskaran Singh Bhangal and Jaskarn Singh Jhutty were found dead with gunshot wounds. Bhangal was 17 and Jhutty was 16.

Three days later, The Chosen Khan published a video called “We Killed those Kids” that got over 2,500 views and incited a long dialogue online. In it, Khan argues that each member of the community needs to take responsibility for the many causes of gang violence in Surrey.

“Instead of pointing the finger and saying, ‘This is because of Paris. This is because of terrorists,’ I didn’t point the finger at anybody. All I did was I utilized empathy and said, ‘Think of this perspective: It’s our fault. All of us. Every single one of us has a part to play in it.’”

Khan is planning to run for Vancouver City Council in the upcoming election. Based on the belief that “we need to be in the room to be able to make changes within the system,” he’s hoping to be elected at only 24 years old.

“If anything, running for Vancouver City Council, I can show people that you can do this as well. It’s not an old person’s game.”

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