Gracia Kasoki Katahwa has stepped into a new role in the City of Montreal administration.
She joins the executive committee as the member responsible for human resources and the fight against racism. Now she’s associate advisor for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
That’s in addition to being mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges-NDG borough.
“I think it’s going really fast,” she laughed. “That’s what is exciting about this role is that you never get bored.”
Katahwa entered politics in 2021 making history as the first Black person to become mayor of a Montreal borough.
“I think the significance is that it will tell young women that if this is where you want to go, you can get it,” artist Pat Dillon Moore of the JAM Arts Centre reasoned.
Katahwa, a nurse, says entering local politics is just another way to help improve people’s health.
“Health is really global,” she pointed out. “I think at the municipal level we touch a lot of things that impact people’s health,” she explained, pointing to things like making sure sidewalks are free of ice or having adequate sports infrastructure in her borough, particularly in poorer areas.
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“Those are things that improve like global health of people, of families,” she said.
Not all of the things that she decided to do have been popular though. In 2023, the community was divided over whether or not to refurbish MacKenzie King Park with artificial turf, an issue which, she told Global News then, represented the debate of our time.
“How can we keep our green spaces but still provide sports infrastructure for kids in vulnerable neighbourhoods,” she said in an interview at the time.
Katahwa opted for turf, angering many. She admits that the toughest part of the job has been managing change, but that she has the tools to handle it.
“I’m a tough cookie,” she grinned.
As a Black woman in her position, she admits to feeling a certain degree of responsibility to set an example for black youth. She says, however, that the broader society also has a responsibility to fight racism. “The weight should not only be on us,” she insisted.
One huge advantage of having Black representatives in power, some argue, is that they can remind others how Black communities can contribute, and what individuals have done. “Because too many people at the city level don’t know,” Dillon Moore stressed.
Katahwa says she wants to continue to do just that.
© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.