Meet Anna-Kay Russel. Originally born in Kingston, Jamaica and now calling Toronto home, Anna-Kay is a passionate policy professional involved in both Leading Change Canada and the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance. But her biggest city building accomplishment is co-founding the first-ever Toronto Black Policy Conference, an event that brought together 300 Black policy professionals to explore issues affecting the region’s Black communities.
Learn more about Anna-Kay’s experience organizing the conference, her role in CivicAction’s Re:Action Task Force, and a hidden talent that may make her #famous.
My name is… Anna-Kay Russell.
The organization(s) I work with (if applicable) is/are… the Toronto Black Policy Network, a policy-driven platform to collaborate, innovate and find sustainable solutions for policy issues affecting Toronto’s Black communities; Leading Change Canada, a nation-wide movement of young leaders and sustainability professionals working towards the goal of a sustainable, prosperous, and socially just future within a generation; and the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, a nonprofit that promotes good corporate governance practices throughout Canadian public companies.
I speak (other than English) … French, Spanish, a bit of Afrikaans and little bit of Czech.
I was born in … Kingston, Jamaica.
But I currently live in … Toronto, Canada.
I spend most of my free time… on Twitter (guilty pleasure).
One surprising thing about me/little known fact is… (can be personal or professional!) I can sing! I used to perform at shows and events in school, and there may still be a YouTube video around of my sister and I performing an original song on MuchMusic, #famous.
Issues in our region that keep me up at night are… challenges in urban transportation and affordable housing, or more broadly,the fact that your success in this city is significantly influenced simply by where you live. Having lived in various neighborhoods across this city, and as I move through it on a regular basis, I continue to see the relevance of Professor David Hulchanski’s 2005 study, “The Three Cities Within Toronto”.
My greatest city-building accomplishment to date is … co-founding and launching the first-ever Toronto Black Policy Conference in 2019. It all stemmed from a small idea around the need for greater representation of Black perspectives in the policy process. From there, my team members and I turned it into a momentous event which brought together over 300 of the region’s Black policy professionals, practitioners, and community leaders to explore policy issues affecting Toronto’s Black communities. We even had attendees come from as far as Nova Scotia to the conference and have inspired other communities across Canada to hold similar discussions. This conference provided the platform for a very important conversation that we look forward to continue having, and this experience truly taught me that it often just takes one small idea to create something much greater than yourself.
As a member of the ELN chosen to sit on the Re:Action Task Force, I think it’s important for the voices of rising leaders to be at the table for conversations on COVID-19 response and recovery because… it will allow us to secure generational equity for the next wave of changemakers who will be making big decisions on behalf of society and the world. By incorporating the voices of rising leaders in our region’s COVID-19 response and recovery today, we can proactively address the potentially negative impacts on their future roles as leaders in improving our region for tomorrow.
My advice for rising leaders looking to support their communities and region during COVID-19 is… to get creative. Unfortunately, many of us are confined to our homes to provide support, which can sometimes feel impossible. If you’re not on the frontlines, however, there are many other opportunities to provide support. Whether it be through financial donations to causes in need, starting a neighborhood pod in your own backyard, or simply checking up on your loved ones and those who may need an ear; there are still many physically-distant ways to continue having a positive impact during this pandemic.
One thing I do to ensure I continue to grow and develop as a leader is… expose myself to new environments and different perspectives. I think it’s very easy, especially in this day and age, to be siloed from those who think, act or live differently from ourselves. As a strong advocate for diverse and inclusive leadership, I’m constantly pushing myself to be open and mindful of different experiences and ideas, as I believe this is a key factor in effective collaboration.
To me, leadership means… taking charge of creating the change you wish to see in your community, your organization, or the world. Leadership takes place at all levels of organizing; from the volunteer on the ground all the way up to the CEO of the company. Simply put, leadership to me means understanding and owning your ability to do something well and using that skill to positively impact the goal your team is working towards achieving.
One characteristic every leader should possess is … emotional intelligence: the ability to recognize emotions—and their impact—in both yourself and others to better facilitate stress relief, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and resolve conflict. I think this skill is often undervalued when compared to its actual impact on effective leadership. Besides skillsets like project management and strategic problem solving, I think good leadership truly relies on how one person understands the needs of another. Having a keen emotional intelligence allows for people to connect on a human level, a quality that I hope to see encouraged more in leadership.
Diverse leadership is important because…. it provides the foundation for an organizational culture that’s open to new ideas. Diverse leadership allows for diverse perspectives to be shared, and with diverse perspectives come new ideas that can enhance an organization’s long-term performance. Looking at the bigger picture, I believe diverse leadership is key to remedying societal barriers based on who we often see in positions of power. By seeing someone in a leadership position that looks like you or shares your perspective, it can be a powerful nudge that opens you to the possibility that you can one day hold that position too.
To me, an inclusive city/region/GTHA looks like… an interconnected community. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has not only proven how important cities are to providing the fundamental resources citizens need to live their everyday lives, but I also believe it has exposed just how much we all depend on each other in a city. This pandemic has uniquely presented us with an opportunity to reflect on what this interconnectedness means for the future of our city and how we can enhance these networks of support that have connected us during this time so that we can be ever more resilient to the challenges we may face as a city in the future.