My meeting with Alejandra Bravo in 2009 was a total coincidence. I had just moved to Toronto the previous year and was considering being a city council candidate from Scarborough in 2010.
I was full of hope and truly believed I had a shot. A friend had suggested that I apply for extensive leadership training programs with Maytree Foundation intended for prospective candidates such as myself. The foundation has the noble goal of helping change the political diversity landscape of city politics by encouraging leaders from minority communities to be politically active.
By the time I had applied to be a fellow of Maytree, it had already made a profound impression on me. Young leaders such as the (now) Ontario NDP President,(one time) Tamil refugee and an inspiring Torontonian, Neethan Shan, was one of its graduates. That was enough for me to apply.
The application was long and the interview to be part of the fellowship intensive. I was interviewed for the opportunity by Bravo and Vivian Gallegos, now a student at Osgoode Law School. Bravo, who serves as manager of leadership programs for the private charitable foundation, made a strong impression on me. She asked me thoughtful questions and listened to my perspectives with respect. I liked her.
Like an emerging politician who has never tasted defeat, I told her that I was only in politics to win. Like an emerging leader herself, who nearly became a successful Toronto City councilor twice, she tried to prepare me for a chance defeat by suggesting that being a candidate was as important. In a three-year-old Globe and Mail interview for instance, Bravo once reflected how, "there are a lot of different factors when you're trying to plan for the future, but going to bed at night knowing that you're making a contribution is priceless to me." She added, "Do more of what you're good at. Build on your strengths."
I was eventually defeated in 2010 and Bravo is a 2014 City council candidate for City council in Ward 17 -- a ward she lost twice by the nearest of margins. In the words of Malcolm X -- "There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time." Bravo seems to understand that. I used her words to find a voice in my own political defeat in 2010.
I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Alejandra Bravo and I was excited when she announced her candidacy for City Council earlier this year and, once again, running against Toronto's least inspiring politician, Cesar Palacio.
I am eager to be her grassroots of supporters and make her dream become a reality. I used her words to find solace in my own political defeat in 2010. Like mainstream Toronto, Bravo was born outside of Canada in Chile and moved here in 1973 escaping a military coup. Like most immigrants, she grew up in a household where politics and activism was as mainstream as watching Canadian hockey.
She joined Maytree, at the conclusion of her last attempt at City politics, in 2006, which she lost by a mere 281 votes, and has made great strides to make Maytree Foundation more practical, inclusive and accessible than the trendy and rich exclusive address it occupies in Yorkville near Bay Street. For nearly a decade, Bravo has run its highly successful School for Civics and building-blocks programs. In her spare time, she has advocated for allowing immigrants to vote in municipal elections as well as work closely with Toronto's idea machine, Dave Maslin, in voting reform.
Alejandra is a rare activist extraordinaire and I believe would make profound contribution to city politics. That may be why I will be spending much of my energies and resources in the Ward 17 in this year's municipal election.