Raised in north Etobicoke, Kevin King was exposed to many negative influences. He lost some friends to gun violence while others are incarcerated for committing heinous crimes.
“It’s just the way it is,” said King matter-of-factly. “You don’t grow up in that community and don’t have that kind of experience. It could make you either better or worse. It’s up to the individual.”
King graduated from North Albion Collegiate Institute, George Brown College, the University of Western Ontario, Brock University and Osgoode Hall Law School and is an articling student in Gowlings’ Toronto office. While in University, he was a student association president and Toronto Youth Cabinet chair.
The youth leader attributed much of his success to his grandmother – who constantly reminded him he’s a “king” and insisted he should attend school – and Rexdale Youth Resource Centre former executive director, Mustafa Raji.
“He believed in me and told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” said the 2001 Harry Jerome Leadership Award winner. “There is inspiration everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and look.”
Outgoing provincial Premier, Dalton McGuinty, has inspired Chike Agbasi for the past five years. McGuinty’s personal assistant is now giving back by being a Big Brother to 12-year-old Dalton Galloway.
“In addition to the Premier, I have had many mentors and role models in my life and I want to do my part for a young person who needs that support and guidance,” said Agbasi, who is also a certified personal trainer.
He said Galloway has made unbelievable strides since he met him two years ago.
“He’s part of his student’s council and a leader among his peers,” Agbasi said. “His grades have also improved and he’s excited to show me his report. This is what inspiration can do for someone who was shy and not too sure of where they were heading.”
King and Agbasi were on a panel at an “Inspiring Leaders Forum” held last week at Queen’s Park.
“The purpose of this forum is to create opportunities to learn from the personal experiences of past and present elected and respected leaders and engage in dialogue on progressive ideas and practical solutions of ways we can help collectively move our community forward by creating a stronger political engagement and foundation,” said organizer Gwyn Chapman.
Keynote speaker, Zanana Akande, who has been an inspiration to many in the community, challenged young people to become involved in the political process and also make their vote count.
The former Toronto school principal was the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.
“Whether you are interested in politics or not, you are affected by it because it follows you,” said Akande. “If you are not interested in politics and you don’t want to become involved in the process, someone else will make decisions for you and you will be affected by them.
“If you decide to vote because the politician looks good, they are friendly and they attend your child’s christening, you are giving away your vote because you may be voting in complete and direct opposition to what you need and what you want. Don’t give away your vote on the basis of someone being a nice person. Politicians have been making their way on easy street for far too long.”
In 1990, Akande won the St. Andrew-St. Patrick riding for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and was appointed Minister of Community & Social Services.
She said that she did not blindly stumble into the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that was the forerunner of the NDP.
“My father was not a member,” said Akande. “He was a Liberal. When I was about 18 and 20 years of age, we used to debate and I asked him how he could be a Liberal. We talked about the issues and I would say to him that the CCF seems to be thinking for our people, they seem to have a dedication and a focus that includes me and they are fighting for those things that you told me I am going to get.
“What he didn’t tell me was not only do you have to look at the platform, but you have to ask them to promote the platform because the things that you may think are extremely important may quickly fall to the bottom of the list once the election is over.”
Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Coteau, said he was turned on to politics in his last year in high school when the building superintendent and management office both failed to respond to his request to repair a hole in a fence in his Flemingdon neighbourhood that would prevent kids from stumbling into a dangerous ice pond.
“I contacted my local MPP and within an hour the problem was fixed,” said Coteau. “That told me that a 16-year-old from the local community had a voice.”