Activist and retired City of Toronto administrator, Ken Jeffers, has thrown his hat into the ring in the upcoming municipal elections.
The city’s former access and diversity manager is challenging Raymond Cho, who has represented Scarborough-Malvern and the new Scarborough-Rouge River (Ward 42) since 1991.
Starting as a director at O’Connor Community Centre in the then City of North York in 1975, Jeffers retired in 2012.
“I worked in city government for a number of years,” said Jeffers. “I have been fortunate and blessed because I have had experiences in many aspects of the city government from North York to Scarborough and downtown, of course, and I feel that now I have retired, there is an expectation from a number of people who need support, information and the need to feel valued. Part of my job as manager of access & diversity was to engage different communities. I am aware of the issues and I feel that the position of city councillor will give me a perspective that I have never had to influence positive things for city residents.”
Jeffers said he made the decision to contend for a seat on city council after being approached by a few Ward 42 residents who felt their needs are not being addressed.
“I had worked with some of these individuals in my capacity as a public servant,” he said. “After leaving that initial meeting with these folks, I got a call from another set of people urging me to consider running in the ward. That did it. I feel I have a lot to offer from the experiences that I have gained.”
Jeffers said his election platform, the theme of which is, “Let Us Re-Open City Hall Together”, will reflect his values and the expectations of constituents.
Jeffers promises to bring in developers to stimulate development, create job opportunities and designated spaces for seniors, lobby to remove the vehicle registration tax and support building a subway in Scarborough.
Inspired by his late aunt, Audrey Jeffers, a Pan-Africanist and the first female member of the Trinidad & Tobago legislature, Jeffers became immersed in student activism when he enrolled in South Carolina State University in 1967 on a track and field scholarship.
He joined the university’s militant Black Awareness Co-ordinating Committee that organized a successful boycott of classes to protest reactionary campus rules and the dismissal of progressive White teachers.
On the night of February 8, 1968, three students – including Jeffers’ close college buddies Henry Smith and Samuel Hammond – were gunned down in front of their campus by South Carolina Highway patrolmen in what is now known as the Orangeburg Massacre. Two days earlier, Jeffers and other angry and frustrated students clashed with police at a bowling alley, which was about 200 metres from the college campus and reserved for Whites.
To protest the campus murders, Jeffers – he defied his coach who promised that he would lose his scholarship if he took part – and a few of his classmates also staged a successful rally on the State Capitol.
Facing death threats, Jeffers bowed to his parents’ demand to leave South Carolina and come to Toronto in the summer of 1968 to join his brother and complete his tertiary education at the University of Toronto.
After graduating, he founded the Harriet Tubman Community Organization (HTCO), one of the first Black multi-service community agencies in the city that, among other functions, operated a Black-focused school as a transitional program for newly-arrived Grade Eight students, mainly from Jamaica.
Created in 1972, the HTCO also produced a steelband – the Tubman Survivors that later became the Avenger Steelband and then Afropan.