Over the last couple weeks, I’ve had brief conversations with black candidates who, like me, ran in the last election. We’re a small group, but we tend to travel in the same circles and end up in the same places. One of those candidates was Ken Jeffers, a retired city employee and civil rights activist who ran in Ward 42. Far from a newcomer like myself, Jeffers has been in the thick of civic engagement and activism for over 40 years. He’s one of those names (along with Charles Roach and Dudley Laws) that were synonymous with 1980s-era black leadership in Toronto. I asked him whether he was encouraged by the depth of black candidates in this past election, including fresh faces like Idil Burale, Keegan Henry-Mathieu, Lekan Olawoye, and, well, me. Did we actually make some progress this time around?
The answer was written on his hunched shoulders and his exhausted face: “No,” he said, eventually. “We didn’t.” And he has a point: city council is just as white today as it was in 2010.
Jeffers, like every other black candidate I’ve spoken to, was disappointed by the inability of Toronto’s black communities to organize and get good people elected. Go to any gathering of black Torontonians, and you’ll hear the same refrain: “If only we invested in our own communities.” This train of thought falls into the familiar trap of tracing black problems to black pathology. Where it comes to the municipal election, it’s not some unwillingness on the part of black people that’s the problem. It’s our campaign finance laws.
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