Jamil Ji­vani wanted to be a gang­ster. In­stead, he be­came a lawyer. In a new book, he ex­plores the de­struc­tive ideas that can drive young men. In an in­ter­view, he talks about his new fight — with can­cer

Jamil Ji­vani was bask­ing in hard-earned suc­cess un­til a can­cer di­ag­no­sis came out of the blue, on Fam­ily Day week­end.

Es­tranged from his fa­ther as a young man, Ji­vani, who was born in Toronto and raised in Bramp­ton, felt the temp­ta­tions of a life of crime, go­ing as far as ask­ing a friend to find a gun for him.

As a young Black male, Ji­vani felt alien­ated from the main­stream. But he chose a dif­fer­ent path.

Ji­vani buck­led down and en­tered univer­sity — York, where he earned a BA in in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment stud­ies in 2010, and later Yale Law School.

He was an ac­tivist spe­cial­iz­ing in youth em­ploy­ment and polic­ing is­sues and dove into com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives in Toronto.

He was called to the bar in 2015 and be­came a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor and scholar at Os­goode Hall Law School. The next year he be­gan serv­ing as direc­tor of a non­profit based at Ohio State Univer­sity that’s striv­ing to im­prove so­cial mo­bil­ity and com­bat opi­oid abuse.

“You’re so used to the thing be­tween your dreams be­ing about ef­fort, luck, op­por­tu­nity and in­tel­li­gence.”

His crown­ing achieve­ment came April 3 with the re­lease of his first book, Why Young Men: Rage, Race

and the Cri­sis of Iden­tity, which ex­plores the con­di­tions that lead to ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lence among young males. Part of his re­search for the book in­cluded trips to Europe and Egypt in 2016, fol­low­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris and Brus­sels.

Every­thing was look­ing up when Ji­vani, 30, came to Toronto for the Fam­ily Day long week­end in Fe­bru­ary to visit his mother, Pam, and two younger sis­ters.

He had de­vel­oped a swollen lymph gland but fig­ured it was a virus.

He was stay­ing with his mom in North York and she went with him to North York Gen­eral’s emer­gency depart­ment around 5 a.m., think­ing he’d get some an­tibi­otics.

A doc­tor or­dered an X-ray. The re­sults brought news that was dev­as­tat­ing.

“The doc­tor had tears in her eyes and said ‘I’m sorry, I think you have lym­phoma,’ ” Ji­vani said in an in­ter­view this week. The news made him cry at the time, too.

Tests fol­lowed, and in two weeks they con­firmed stage IV non-Hodgkin lym­phoma. It had en­tered his bones, dam­aged his spine and caused frac­tures in his neck and back.

He now wears a brace to pro­tect his spine. His busy life is on “pause.” The cel­e­bra­tion he’d hoped to en­joy has been muted by hardship.

He takes six dif­fer­ent pills a day, and

must take five chemo­ther­apy drugs ev­ery three weeks.

He’s had one course of ra­di­a­tion, a chemo ses­sion, has lost about 20 pounds, has en­dured in­tense headaches and pain and is bat­tling fa­tigue. He faces more of the same. But Ji­vani is con­fi­dent he’ll re­cover. (Pa­tients with stage IV non-Hodgkin lym­phoma can have a fairly high sur­vival rate.)

Dur­ing the in­ter­view he was en­er­getic, smil­ing and full of good hu­mour, though his voice at times choked with emotion as he de­scribed his health prob­lems.

The psy­cho­log­i­cal ride he’s been through lately has of­ten been more drain­ing than the phys­i­cal toll, he says. Ji­vani has had to shift his out­look. “You’re so used to the thing be­tween your dreams be­ing about ef­fort, luck, op­por­tu­nity and in­tel­li­gence,” he says. “I was com­fort­able think­ing that if my dreams don’t be­come real it’s mostly within my con­trol. Now there are things out of my con­trol that might stop me from re­al­iz­ing my dreams and that’s a re­ally hard thing to ac­cept.”

His ill­ness has forced him to con­front some­thing else: his es­tranged re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther.

Is­mat Ji­vani, 55, who had been in and out of Jamil’s life from when Jamil was 8, left the fam­ily home for good when Jamil was about 17. But Is­mat reached out to his son two weeks ago for the first time in 10 years, af­ter hear­ing the news about the can­cer.

The con­tact came through a Face­book mes­sage. Jamil re­sponded, but doesn’t plan to be “pen pals” with his fa­ther.

Jamil says his dad has had a com­pli­cated life, and he ex­plores his re­la­tion­ship with him in a sec­tion of the book, which forced him to not just be “mad at this guy for all the things he didn’t do,” he says. “I had to (ac­knowl­edge) he went through a lot of stuff that was a lot tougher than I’ve gone through.”



Dur­ing an in­ter­view, Jamil Ji­vani was en­er­getic and smil­ing, but a few times he got emo­tional dis­cussing his health.


Ji­vani grad­u­ated from Yale Law in 2013, and vowed to do every­thing he could to help kids like him re­al­ize their po­ten­tial.

Ji­vani takes six dif­fer­ent pills a day, and five chemo­ther­apy drugs ev­ery three weeks.

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