By RON FANFAIR
Rocco Achampong was a first-year law student at Osgoode Hall when 18-year-old Amon Beckles was fatally gunned down while attending the funeral of his best friend – Jamal Hemmings – in November 2005.
Achampong’s brother and youngest sister – who were in the church at the time – were among grieving family and friends who had to take immediate cover to avoid gunfire.
Raised in the same neighbourhood, Achampong knew the deceased and was deeply affected by their tragic deaths and what he perceived to be the lack of decisive leadership by local politicians.
He said he made the decision then that he would run for Mayor of Toronto in the October 2010 municipal elections.
“It became ominously clear to me back then that no politician knew how to speak to the issue of youth violence,” said Achampong. “They did not speak the language of the youth that were involved and they were unaware that societal values had changed. I took the events of that time very seriously and ever since then, I have been readying to get into this position.”
At age 31, Achampong is the youngest candidate in the city’s mayoralty race.
He said his tenure as president of the University of Toronto Student Administrative Council and the Black Students Association, which he founded, has prepared him to challenge for the mayoralty post.
“The experience question is a fair one,” agreed Achampong. “I think that experience in any situation is what is required when the state of affairs is beneficial and needs to be maintained, so you need someone from probably the old group of people governing to maintain what is beneficial to all. That is not the case. My candidacy, I think, is impelled by a need to break away from the old mould and in a sense build anew what is quickly becoming stale.
“In terms of preparation and experience, even as a student, this was my trajectory. As head of the Student Administrative Council, I had a constituency of 40,000 which is greater than many cities here and a $12 million budget. It was true that I was a student, but I still ran the show and I stood before my peers and made promises to freeze tuition, bring down Metro Pass costs and two other internal things all of which were done…There will be some that will be skeptical, but I will come at them. I only ask them not to dismiss the person, but look at what I am expressing and what are my ideas.”
Achampong, who was born on Christmas Day 1978, came to Toronto from Ghana with his family in 1987 and attended St. Bernard Catholic School and Chaminade College School, a private boys’ school founded by the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1964. He returned to Ghana for three years to attend St. Peter’s Secondary School before coming back to this city to complete high school at Weston Collegiate Institute.
Achampong, who studied History and Political Science at the U of T’s Trinity College before entering Law School, was a member of John Tory’s 2003 mayoralty campaign which was managed by Rocco Rossi who is also vying to be the next mayor.
“I am sorry that our interests are not aligned in 2010,” he said. “The student has now become a man and I will have to go against someone from whom I learned lessons and observed in action. But sometimes, after graduation, you have to stand on your feet and say I too can do this.”
Achampong said he holds Tory in high esteem and would have had great difficulty in making the decision to enter the race if Tory had not bowed out in early January.
“I probably would have continued on the path that I am on now,” he added.