A Letter to Toronto from Grassroots Leaders

The 17th Toronto’s Vital Signs report shows that inequity is pervasive in this city and growing. This does not surprise us. Inequity means that some of us do not benefit from the opportunities that others in our city take for granted. And this holds us all back.

We are grassroots leaders and we are changemakers! We embrace our responsibility to ourselves and our neighbours. We take ownership for addressing local challenges and uniting our communities. Our neighbourhoods are vibrant and diverse.

Where some see deficit, we see strength. Our role as agents of change is often unknown or under-valued. And yet we are the missing piece in the solutions puzzle.

So, what are our neighbourhoods' priorities?

  • Physical and mental health outcomes are significantly lower and social isolation is higher
  • Many low-income neighbourhoods have among the lowest public transit access in the city and many are not set up for walking or biking to work
  • Many live in towers and yet there is less access to public greenspace here than in neighbourhoods with mostly single-family homes and backyards
  • Feelings of safety are lowest here but there is a shortage of safe places for children to play

And yet we create spaces to effect change:

  • We come out in large numbers to festivals and events to celebrate our cultural diversity
  • High-school graduation rates for many racialized groups have risen faster than others and more and more are attending post-secondary institutions
  • We are more likely than the residents of the rest of Toronto to believe that we can make a big difference in our communities by working together

In our neighbourhoods we are parents, young people with promising futures, friends and colleagues. We are organizers, collaborators and teachers. Together we create and run parenting groups, literacy programs, green initiatives and after-school enrichment programs. This is often done as unpaid work.

The upcoming federal election presents an opportunity for change. Ask your local candidates if they’ve read Vital Signs and what they plan to do about inequity. Then ask them how. Have they visited our neighbourhoods? Have they met with grassroots leaders? And how will they involve local residents in designing solutions to local and city-wide challenges?

Some of us are newcomers but Toronto has long been a gathering place for many peoples. If we can all come together on one thing let it be this: We must recognize that the current systems that govern us and shape our lives are not equitable. It’s high time that the people who have the most to gain are welcomed to solutions and decision-making tables. As grassroots leaders, we have the answers.

We hope this letter serves to change perceptions on what poverty is and what it isn’t. Mostly, we hope that our experience and contributions can one day soon be recognized as essential to the future health and wellbeing of Toronto. Although low-income, racialized people and young people are struggling the most right now, everyone suffers when our society is divided. As Canada’s centre of diversity and our economic engine, when Toronto falls we all fall together. But we can also succeed together. If you are a politician or a policy-maker, recognize our expertise and consult with us. If you are a nonprofit organization, hire us to run programs. If you are looking to make a real difference with your charitable giving, look beyond the usual places and direct your support to grassroots work.

Vital Signs clearly shows that the circumstances of many Torontonians’ lives are not easy. But we are powerful. We are grassroots leaders, and we will no longer be overlooked.

Issaq Ahmed
Angie Buado
Phylicia Davis-Wesseling
Jacqueline Dwyer
Mussarat Ejaz
Ko Hosoya
Noel Livingston
Beverly Scarlett
Charles Zhu