Councillor Arielle Kayabaga, the first Black woman on London city council, is setting her sights on federal politics to represent marginalized voices and pave the way for young people, women and people of colour in leadership.
Kayabaga is currently serving her first term as London’s Ward 13 councillor, representing the areas of downtown London, South of Horton, Wharncliffe Road North and Riverside Drive. She also recently announced her next political step: running for the federal Liberal nomination in the London West riding.
“I just see this as an opportunity for me to … be able to advocate for the city of London and all Canadians across the country,” said Kayabaga. “[I want to] make sure that when we talk about policy reforms our voices are being represented, whether it be from the perspective of being a young person, university student, a Black woman or single mother.”
“I'm excited to be at the table and then champion London and champion everyone that I represent within my identity," she said.
Kayabaga has long been a champion for underrepresented communities in London. At 27, she decided to run for London city council to affect change in her community and represent marginalized voices.
“Most young people are not represented in these political rooms,” said Kayabaga. “Marginalized communities and people of colour are not at the table. So, I just felt that I'm not going to keep asking for people to represent me when I can also put my name in the hat.”
Her bid was successful and Kayabaga was elected in 2018, becoming the first Black woman on London’s city council. She hopes that her historic win will convince other young people, women and people of colour to run for government positions.
“There's a saying that if you can see it, you can be it,” said Kayabaga. “You've got to break that first barrier of being the first to allow other people from my community to feel that they can be represented at that level.”
Kayabaga’s decision to run for city council stemmed from time she spent at Western University. After becoming a mother during her studies at York University, Kayabaga moved back home to London and fulfilled some of her credits through King’s University College.
She took the college’s Women in Civic Leadership course that allowed her to shadow a London councillor. Kayabaga said seeing what councillors did and the important conversations and issues they were debating drove her to run for a position.
Being a recent student herself, Kayabaga works to bridge the gap between London politics and Western students.
As one of the youngest members of council, Kayabaga said she works to stay connected with students in the London community and represent the needs of young people. She has been a keynote speaker at university events and many of the volunteers on her 2018 campaign were Western students.
Kayabaga hopes to make students feel more welcome and engaged in London through her advocacy work.
“I hope that [students] feel welcome in our city and that they feel that they can stay and contribute and make the city their community as well and feel heard and feel wanted,” said Kayabaga. “There's a lot of room for them to contribute and make an impact.”
Kayabaga’s broader advocacy goal is to pursue greater equity by ensuring that all Londoners can access basic necessities such as internet, food, transit, meaningful employment, equitable wages and child services.
As Kayabaga prepares to take her first step into federal politics, she is still looking to represent and build connections with students at Western.
“My door’s open if [students are] interested in connecting, if they want to contribute to the campaign as they have in the past," said Kayabaga. "I'm always open to chat with them and to continue to build these relationships together."