New York City Council candidate for District 27 in Queens, Al-Hassan Kanu, has expressed belief that everyone has a responsibility to the community they live in regardless of whether they were born in the US or not.
Kanu, a career public servant who has spent close to two decades working for the city alongside elected officials such as the current Councilmember for District 27 Daneek Miller, who is term limited and his predecessor Leroy Comrie both of whom have endorsed his candidature in next year's elections, is one of the six declared candidates.
Kanu and his family fled the civil war in Sierra Leone in the late 90s and while his other family members settled in Maryland and Virginia, he made New York's Queens his home.
"We all have a responsibility to this community, each and everyone of us. Whether we were born here or came as adults, this is our community. We have to be involved in the community activities," he said.
"You can't say because I came from Africa, this is not my issue. We all have to be involved because whatever will happen to this country while we are here, will affect everyone of us.
"We have the responsibility to be participants in our community activities and change the things that need to be changed. I want to inspire people to say it does not matter where you're from. This is your home."
Before Kanu started working for the city, he got involved in advocacy activities at York College where he studied political science.
"I started at college where I became a student leader senator advocating for supplies and the school in general," he said.
"So while I was going up and down talking to elected officials and asking for money for my fellow students and for the library and all other areas I met Councilmember Leroy Comrie who asked me to work for him because of my advocacy and my tenacity to actually stand up for people.
"So I worked in the city council for 10 years and also worked with his successor Miller who is currently in the city council. I worked with him for four years. I have been working with elected officials in Queens for almost two decades."
Kanu said during his time as a public servant, he has been able to fight for justice, equality and also fight for support from city hall.
"I was working for elected officials and listened to people's issues. Too many questions asked by the community and no one is there to answer.
"I want to focus on answering those questions. I understand the in and out of city hall and how to bring about support for my community.
"This community has been good to me, given me an opportunity to educate myself. I have my daughter right here in the community, raising her here. I have been fortunate. I wanna continue with the service I have been doing in the community for the last two decades by becoming the next council member," said Kanu 40, a single parent to nine year-old daughter Olana.
Kanu pointed out the lack of housing as one of the biggest challenges faced in his community.
"The demand for housing keeps on increasing because of immigrants, relocation, people are moving to New York. So as the population grows, the housing that we have is stagnant. We have to find a way to rezone some of our areas to be able to have affordable housing for the people. Affordable housing is a major issue in my district. It is not just affordable housing, home ownership too," he said.
"There are a lot of young people in our area that want to be home owners. We have to teach them ways of becoming home owners so they don't flee the city because they cannot afford to live here.
"While I was in the council, one of the things we created with council member Miller was something where we bought mortgages with the federal government.
"We bought those homes and gave them to the community at affordable prices rather than just having those homes sitting there abandoned."
Unfortunately, the Trump administration came in and stopped that program."
Kanu also said kids in his community were also lacking education materials especially in this COVID-19 era where more students are @conducting their lessons online.
"There are families that I have spoken to who do not have computers or internet. We have to find ways of how we are going to create the internet for all our schools, especially for the kids that are in shelters.
"We have to make sure those kids have access to these resources," he said.
"They're the future and we cannot talk about them being the future without giving them the tools to actually attain the future that we are all asking for. Education, housing infrastructure are the major issues faced in our district.
"The population in our district has increased but we are still using the same infrastructure that was created long ago. We have to put our money into infrastructure."
Kanu believes the spike in gun violence that has rocked the city in the last few months could also be attributed to lack of opportunities for kids in the communities.
"Lack of those opportunities creates idleness and then kids end up doing what they are not supposed to be doing. In our community @for instance, we don't even have a community center," said Kanu.
"We have to make sure schools come up with programs where kids stay in school after they're done. We have to create programs that these kids will be interested in and be able to do it. Because of a lack of all these opportunities, you get these kids on the streets resulting in increased crime. We have to have enough people on the streets reaching out to these kids to mentor them. This is not something we can just leave to the police. Kids want to do something but we are not providing them those opportunities and that's what we need to do to address crime," he said.
On ranked choice voting, which is set to be implemented next year, Kanu observed that many voters do not understand the system and that a lot of education was needed.
"It is a nice program but people are not educated about it. There has to be a campaign that will tell people when they go to the polls on how ranked choice works. When we voted on ranked choice last year, there were people who called on the phone that they had no idea what they were voting for. We have to do a lot of education behind the program so that people know. What is going to happen without education is that when people get to the voting booth and see the ballot being too long, they won't vote. We have enough time to educate people," said Kanu.
Kanu said he voted for ranked choice voting, with the expectation that people were going to be taught and made to understand it properly.
"…And now the fact that it has not happened the way I wanted it to, I kind of have regrets. When ranked choice was being discussed, we did not have anybody to give us full information about what it was all about. There was not enough time to teach us to understand. I am still struggling to understand ranked choice voting," he said.
Kanu was optimistic of winning the election because he understood and knew how to fix the problems faced by District 27.
"People are reaching out supporting the campaign and believe that experience is needed at this point when we have this crisis of $10 billion deficit. They believe that I understand those issues and believe that together as a community, we can actually address those issues. With some of the experience that I have to go and address those issues without having to wait for someone to do it," concluded Kanu.