Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with God

Community News & Features Aug 10, 2018 at 6:01 pm
(Photos:  Althea Manasan)

(Photos: Althea Manasan)

Enrique Olivo, TCDSB Trustee Candidate, Toronto Ward 12

By Althea Manasan

Typing on a laptop in a Toronto cafe, dressed casually in a white button down shirt and a blue hoodie, Enrique Olivo looks like your average tech-sector millennial.

In some ways, he is. But outside of his work as a data scientist at international meal-kit company HelloFresh, Olivo is an idealist working to create change in his community through local politics.

The recent university graduate is running to become one of 12 English-language trustees on the Toronto Catholic District School Board. At 22 years old — and just a few years out of high school himself — he’d be the youngest member.

“It’s not a decision I took lightly,” Olivo says, explaining that he believes that the school system can improve in a lot of ways. “As someone who’s been a student at those schools in the area, I know what it’s like when I say we can do better, and I have the energy and the time to do so. If there’s room there, you feel called — that’s what I was taught.”

Olivo is running in Scarborough’s Ward 12, where he graduated from Neil McNeil secondary school. Part of his desire to run is to see renewal on the school board: Nancy Crawford, the incumbent he’s running against, has served as the trustee for the Ward for the last eight years. It’s not uncommon for trustees on the board to hang on to their positions for decades.

“Times have changed in a lot of ways since the 70s, 80s and 90s,” Olivo says, but adds that Crawford “has been a positive advocate.”

Olivo, the youngest of three brothers, has lived almost his entire life in the area and says he feels an “organic connection to the community.” His mother, Lydia, a bookkeeper, and his father, also named Enrique, a bank administrator, moved the family to Canada from Quezon City when Enrique was four years old.

“I had the unique experience of being fully Canadian, but also fully Filipino,” Olivo says. “In terms of my background, that dual identity is a huge part of it.”

Olivo says he had a modest immigrant upbringing that valued education. “Like a lot of people in Scarborough, we didn’t have much money,” he says. “We took great pride in the fact that this city was somewhere you could get a good education for free. I think that’s common to a lot of immigrant families, and that’s a story I heard a lot growing up.”

Like many other immigrant parents, Olivo’s parents wanted him to pursue a career in business or finance — something that would lead to “gainful employment.”

But while he was in school, Olivo became fascinated with the social sciences. He remembers one teacher in particular who taught a course called “Challenge and Change” that piqued his curiosity.

“It was just a fascination over human behaviour, how we organize ourselves,” he says. “And there’s something specific about how power is allocated and exercised that I just found there was a sense of awe in considering the question.”

3Y4A0589After graduating from Neil McNeil, Olivo opted out of attending business school at McGill University and instead, enrolled in a dual BA program between Columbia University in New York City and Sciences Po in Champagne, France. He spent two years in each country and emerged with two bachelor’s degrees — one in political science and one in statistics.

When he first told his parents he wanted to pursue political science, he was met with confusion. “The first question was, ‘How are you going to get paid doing political science?’” he says. But after that initial reaction, Olivo says his parents were supportive.

Olivo also had some early experience in politics when he served as student trustee on the Catholic school board. He was responsible for advocating for fellow students and liaising between the board and student councils. Although he was just a high school student at the time, he was sitting among adult trustees.

“It was a great lesson in democracy, I think,” Olivo says. “But it was also a great lesson in … self inquiry.”

He says one of his mentors during the time encouraged him and his fellow students to think about life after high school and how they could contribute to society.

“He always brought up this intersection of ‘Where is there a need in society, where do your skills and interests meet up?’ That’s the intersection,’” Olivo says. “Advocating for issues I care about is something I know I’ll probably always be doing, whether it’s in discussion with my friends or bringing up issues in this campaign right now.”

The issues that make up Olivo’s platform are ones that he’s been thinking about since his days as a student trustee at Neil McNeil, such as increasing capital funding for school repairs, indigenous reconciliation, mental health and religious education.

“The collection of issues relating to student welfare, from the physical building itself to the curriculum, those were things I cared about back then, and I still care about now,” Olivo says.

In fact, in an op-ed he wrote for The Catholic Register in 2013, he called for the integration of Apologetics — the practice of using intellectual discourse to defend one’s faith — into the classroom. The same ideas are part of his platform now.

“One thing I find lacking … is that the intellectual rigour of that Catholic tradition is lost,” Olivo says, arguing that deep, philosophical, “sometimes uncomfortable” questions like ‘Does God exist?’ should be debated and discussed.

“It’s something I feel very strongly about — speaking truth to Catholic education,” he says.

As Olivo moves forward with his campaign and his life, he recalls a project during his time at Columbia where he was analyzing biographical data of Supreme Court justices. As part of his research, he visited websites that showed tombstone inscriptions.

The most common inscription he came across, he says, was a verse from Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“Everyday I think about that — how do I do justice, how do I love kindness, how do I walk humbly with my God?” he says. “Trying to live up to that creed is what I want to do.”