Nigerian-born Atinuke Bankole is part of the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) ambitious youth movement seeking political office.
The 30-year-old teacher and community worker won the party’s nod as the candidate in Cambridge-North Dumfries for the October 6 provincial elections. She defeated longtime resident and community volunteer Joe Silva.
An area resident for the past four years, Bankole was third in voting for regional city council in last year’s municipal elections.
Learning from the experience, she believes she’s in a much better position to challenge for the southwestern Ontario riding held by the Tories since 1995.
“I definitely learned from the municipal elections that you need a strong team around you to be successful,” said Bankole who received 6,086 votes. “I am surrounded (by) individuals who have a wealth of experience and energy and I feel that is going to make a difference for me.”
Migrating with her family in 1991, Bankole graduated from Iroquois High School in Oakville, McMaster University with a degree in Women Studies and the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education. While at McMaster, she contributed to The Silhouette, the university’s student newspaper.
In 2001, she was a semi-finalist in the “As Prime Minister Awards” which is the premier program of the Magna for Scholarship Fund with more than $500,000 in awards offered annually, including cash and paid internships at Magna International Inc.
Bankole said her passion for community service and politics was fuelled by her participation in a campaign by Waterloo’s Black community to get their history included in the region’s new history museum at the Doon Heritage Crossroads site.
Hundreds of former slaves passed through the region in the 19th century and Levi Carroll’s old log house is a protected heritage landmark in Waterloo Park. Carroll was a one-legged ex-slave who escaped the American South and made a new life in Kitchener which was then called Berlin.
Jamaican-born Robert Sutherland, the first Black graduate at a Canadian university and the first Black to pursue law studies in North America, also practiced in Kitchener in the 1850s before moving to Walkerton.
The African-Canadian Association of Waterloo, the United Caribbean Association of Cambridge and the Congress of Black Women Kitchener chapter have endorsed Bankole’s campaign.
“The fact that these organizations and the public came together to successfully petition for the city’s Black history to be part of the museum’s permanent exhibits helped me realize how important it is for a community to work together and what can be achieved when you do so,” said Bankole.
As she makes the rounds campaigning, Bankole said the main concerns for area residents are unemployment and under-employment, the HST which they feel shift the tax burden from corporations to working families and expansion of Cambridge Memorial Hospital.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath says Bankole is passionate about improving the community for residents.
“As a teacher, she’s dedicated to making sure that our community is a place where families can afford the increasing cost of living, workers can find good paying jobs and seniors can receive quality health care,” Horwath said.
Seven years ago, Bankole was the first Canadian recipient of the Grace, Kennedy & Company Ltd. internship award aimed at helping second and third generation Jamaican university students in the Diaspora enhance their professional skills while reconnecting to their heritage.
Bankole qualified for the birthright program because her maternal grandmother, who migrated to Nigeria in the early 1950s, was Jamaican.