London’s city council has a chance to look a little different this October. Arielle Kayabaga is standing out as one of London’s youngest civic election candidates. If elected, she is poised to become London’s first black female councillor. In the sprawling Ward 13 area, Kayabaga is campaigning for inclusion in all spaces, advocating for diversity, and exploring ways to address the issue of homelessness. Kayabaga obtained a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and African Studies from Carleton University. More recently, she enrolled in classes at Western University, which set her on a course towards her current council candidacy. We sat down with Kayabaga to discuss her campaign and her take on some of London’s most pressing issues.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GO TO THIS POINT IN YOUR LIFE?
I’m a young immigrant Londoner, I’m a single mom, and I have a beautiful nine year old. I’m a Political Science graduate. I have a background in policy work, community work, settlement work, diversity and inclusion work and I’m a Francophone. I graduated in Political Science and African Studies, worked on Parliament Hill in caucus services in Ottawa. I returned to London and decided to go back to school and take a few classes and ended up in the Women in Civic Leadership class. I got paired with councillor Virginia Ridley and shadowed her last year. I learned a lot about civic politics and my passion for better communities influenced my decision to run.
Initially I was really scared to put my name forward [in the Municipal election], it was a big deal. I was really surprised at how many people actually wanted me to run and were willing to support me.
Before I decided to run, about two years ago, my family and I would go out to Dundas Street and hand out food and coffee to support people in need. When I was at City Hall, I got to see first hand how some of the decisions were made. I am passionate about helping people in our city and I believe that housing should be the first step. Ending and preventing homelessness in London is a top priority for me and we are going to have to take every avenue to make sure this happens. There isn’t enough accessible and affordable housing. We also need to rethink social housing in order to remove stigmas around poverty and allow equal opportunities to people. Transit is a contentious issue right now but London is a mid-size city – a great city should have great transit. This should include complete street models that provide options for people on how to get around in the city. It is also a huge investment in our infrastructure while providing jobs to Londoners. It’s not just about buses, it’s about our infrastructure and our economy.
Another reason why I put my name forward is because I believe in diversity at every level of government. Diverse representation is important in providing a wealth of perspectives on policies. I want to see more women and more young people that are building their future here and involved in local politics.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND HAS SHAPED YOU, YOUR WORK ETHIC, THE WAY YOU SEE THE WORLD, YOUR OVERALL PERSPECTIVE?
I wouldn't say my culture impacts my work ethic. However, being a visible minority influences your work. There is always pressure to prove yourself. You have to work ten times harder than everyone else. It's been a great asset on the campaign. I've been able to canvas the whole ward and I’m circling back a second time. I think being a single mom has impacted the way that I do things. I would say that becoming a mom at a very young age changes your entire life – I had to fight to be respected to get myself out of statistics and be where I’m at today.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST ISSUE LONDON FACES RIGHT NOW AND WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
Homelessness. You can’t build communities without people. If you’re trying to build a community, you need to take care of the people who are living in that community. There is a lack of proper and safe housing and this is what we need to be championing. Housing is a basic need. We should be providing housing for people. We should be providing food security for people. We should be encouraging employers to give fair wages to prevent homelessness. We should have programs for youth that allow them to self-empower and create their own jobs. We should be encouraging and supporting more small and medium businesses. There is so much we can we do to have a great city, but safe, accessible, and affordable housing comes first. We can’t talk about revitalising downtown if we’re not looking at the social issues in our core.
WHAT’S AN IMMEDIATE NOT SO SERIOUS ISSUE YOU WOULD LIKE TO RESOLVE RIGHT AWAY IF GIVEN THE POWER?
We need better transit in London; it's just not reflective of who we are as a progressive city. We need reliable transit. I would have personally loved to see LRT (Light Rail Transit) come to our city but Bus Rapid Transit is a first step. Council has leveraged money to fix and better our infrastructure by removing cars out of the way of buses, and buses out of the way of cars. It is going to be a great start for a growing city that will soon see an increase of 100,000 people.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF IN LONDON?
I want to see more inclusion in every aspect of London. More art and culture in our core would be great as well. Having local culture displayed across the core would be good for our economy and tourism but also for our well being. I would love to see London continue to foster the “All Are Welcome Here” attitude so that everyone can live comfortably. I want to see London having different options to get around the city, for cycling, driving, or walking. Whatever lifestyle people adopt we should accept and make it safer for Londoners. Lastly, I would like to see more Londoners taking care of their environment by recycling and reducing waste.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT LONDON?
I love the people. I have built a lot of connections with people who really care, who are willing to put their lives on the line to be allies, people who work hard to help others. It moves my heart. I think London has a lot of really great, small businesses. I love that you can breathe in London, it's not overwhelmed by tall buildings. It's the Forest City, right? You get both worlds; you get the city but you can also pull yourself out and get the natural peaceful element. I also love that London has a lot of potential. That always gets me excited, to know that we can actually work to make things happen.
WHERE ARE YOU A LOCAL?
I have a few places that I love to eat at. I enjoy coffee at Locomotive Espresso, breakfast and brunch at Edgar + Joe’s. I love the sandwiches and the chicken and waffles at Kosmo’s. Tacos at Dos Tacos. I love The Jump Off, and United Kutz. I love supporting young people, visible minorities. So I find those places and I show my support.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WITHDRAWAL AND ENDORSEMENT FROM CANDIDATE ROD MORLEY?
I thought that it was a noble gesture of him to leave the campaign and endorse me. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision. I respect him choosing to honour his beliefs of allowing capable women to be in politics and instead of running against, them rolling your sleeves and helping them. He’s been canvassing with me since that debate. I appreciate it.
WHAT'S ONE QUESTION YOU WISHED YOU WERE ASKED MORE?
I wish people asked me what I liked about the campaign. I enjoy knocking on doors and I enjoy talking to people. I have learned so much from connecting with everyone I meet. But there also bad days.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE CAMPAIGN?
Meeting and talking to people from different walks of life with different experiences is just amazing. Just taking a piece from everyone and learning from them.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DAYS THAT ARE HARD?
Honestly, one kind person can lift up your day. They can make you forget that you just had ten very hard doors. I get spend time with a friend of mine who’s a spiritual seeker, and she helps me keep my energy high regardless of the lows. We were talking about going back to “Why are you doing this?’’, “How can you keep your energy high?’’ and “Why do you feel like you have to compete?”
I just want to showcase who I am and what I can do for the community. People were either going to take it or not take it. However, it's so easy to get dragged in competing mode. I think that's how I stay level. Saying ‘no’ when I have to, and taking a day off when I need a day off. You’re trying to be the best ‘you’ and the best ‘you’ is when you’re fully charged and are able to give positivity. When you don’t have anything to give, recognize that. Take a step back and fill up and again. By focusing on the positive parts of day. By taking one day at a time and keeping the why in mind is important. It’s important for me to eat well, rest and focus on what I’m grateful for. To take one day at time.
Story By Kerry Ssemugenyi