#TorontoIsFailingMe: I ran against Rob Ford and suffered the consequences

#TorontoIsFailingMe: I ran against Rob Ford and suffered the consequences

Toronto’s inner suburbs have become shorthand for crumbling postwar apartment blocks, underfunded schools or gang warfare. They’re among the neighbourhoods with the lowest incomes in the city, the longest trek to a TTC stop, and the highest concentration of immigrants and visible minorities. This month, we’re sharing stories from Torontonians who live in the inner suburbs, told in their own words. Some are shocking, some tragic, some hopeful. Together, they convey an urgent truth: Toronto is failing too many of its citizens. Have a story of your own? Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #TorontoIsFailingMe to tell us.
#TorontoIsFailingMe: I ran against Rob Ford and suffered the consequences Munira Abukar at her Rexdale townhouse complex. (Image: Eamon Mac Mahon)

Munira Abukar, 22

My parents came to Toronto from Somalia during the civil war. I’m the fourth of nine children: eight girls and one boy. I still live with my parents, in the same five-bedroom townhouse where I grew up. My dad has always supported us on a taxi-driver’s income; my mom stayed home and took care of us kids. My brother joined the Canadian military six years ago and helps with the bills. It’s been a challenge, but my parents are strong-willed and determined.

I loved growing up in Etobicoke. There were always kids around: whether you wanted to play soccer or basketball in the summer or build snow forts in the winter. There were always adults around, too—to help you if you were in trouble, or to scold you if you needed a scolding. Now I’m that adult: if I see a young guy outside and it’s 10 p.m. and I know he’s supposed to be at home, I’ll say, “Hey, go home!” and he’ll go right away. That’s a strong neighbourhood.

The first time I really got involved in the community was when I was 13. At the time we had a community centre with an after-school tutoring program. One day I showed up and the program had been shut down without notice. I was so frustrated. When Toronto Community Housing later held a meeting, my mom told me I should go and speak out. I did, and after the meeting we got our program back.

People in our neighbourhood often don’t have a strong sense of self-worth. ­Everyone is always telling them they can’t do things—and outsiders seem so surprised when they succeed. In 2010, I enrolled in the criminology program at Ryerson ­University. Someone asked me where I lived, and when I said Rexdale, they told me, “Wow. You live there and you go to school here?” It’s hard to imagine yourself sitting at a desk in university, if all your life you’ve been told university isn’t for you.

It’s the same with politics. I saw that my parents and the rest of the community were tired of voting for someone they thought would bring change and not seeing it happen. No one reflected their life experiences, their ideas and their beliefs. I wanted to demonstrate that there are options, so last year I entered the race for councillor in Ward 2. I ran against Rob Ford, knowing I had little chance of beating him. My goal was to show people that it’s possible for one of them to run for office.

What happened during the campaign shocked me. People wrote “Bitch” and “Go back home” on my campaign signs. Being a target made me feel incredibly vulnerable. Then my signs started disappearing. We let the city know, but they said there wasn’t anything they could do. After the election was over, whoever stole the signs placed them back up all over the ­neighbourhood—likely knowing I’d be fined for it. In total, there were 154 put back up, and in ­November I received an invoice from Municipal ­Licensing and Standards for more than $4,000. I’m still fighting the charge—I ­followed all the rules and shouldn’t be penalized. The racism hit my team pretty hard; it took a lot out of them. The youngest volunteer was only 11 or 12, and they’d never faced anything like it. But I tried to teach them we could persevere past it. People only do this because they have hate in their hearts; you don’t have to give them any space in yours.

—as told to Lauren McKeon