As the self-appointed voice of the victims of gun violence, Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo keeps a running tally of young men shot down on the streets of Toronto. When I sat down with her in a sandwich shop near Jane and Dundas on Friday, she carried a tombstone-sized piece of white board inscribed with the names of the 28 Torontonians shot dead this year. By her reckoning, all but three of them were black.
That is a shocking statistic in a city where black people make up around 8 per cent of the population, but she refuses to explain it away with the usual talk about racial discrimination or economic disadvantage.
"I'm sorry, I don't buy the racism. Last time I looked I was black," she says, glancing down at an ebony arm. "I'm still black. It's an excuse."
Her experience in the United States, where she lived for three decades after immigrating from Nigeria, makes her skeptical of claims that Canadian society is shot through with bigotry.
"If we were sitting in Baltimore or Atlanta it would be a different ball game," she says. "We're in Toronto, where you see the whole world in one place. We have all the opportunities. It's equal here."
Instead of raging against the system, she says, Torontonians in troubled neighbourhoods should mobilize to heal their fractured communities from within. Rather than keeping the no-snitching code, they should co-operate willingly with police to hunt down the thugs who do the killing.
She works enthusiastically with the police on programs like the Crime Stoppers tip line and the TAVIS anti-violence task force. When people talk to her about racist cops, she rolls her eyes. "Racism in the police? I've heard it all. I've even heard that police have killed some of these kids and paid other kids to do the killing. I don't buy it. The fact is that police are here to serve and protect us."
Views like that have made her a controversial and often lonely figure. When she held a news conference on Friday to introduce rappers who were going to foreswear the use of guns in their music and videos, precisely one rapper showed up - and he said rap was not to blame for gun violence.
Ms. Omololu-Olunloyo, 46, came to Toronto three years ago after working in the U.S. as a pharmacist and crime reporter, sometimes running afoul of the law herself. A newspaper report last year said she faced outstanding warrants in Georgia for jumping bail and violating probation.
She settled at Jane and Wilson and saw the toll gun crime was taking first-hand. One young man was shot to death right in front of her place, his body dumped across the street. When 11-year-old Ephraim Brown was killed in gang crossfire in 2007, "that was it for me. I said, 'Oh, I have to get involved.' "
Ever since she has been keeping her list. She can tell you how each of the men on her white board died, and the stories are tragically similar. Chris Tshilombo, 17, an aspiring rapper and immigrant from Congo, was shot in a pre-Caribana party. His body was found in an empty car.
Andrew Dowden, 17, another would-be rapper, was found dead on the banks of the Humber River, his body riddled with bullets. Adrian Ducas, 17, was playing basketball at his school when three men walked in. One of them kicked his basketball away. When he objected, the man shot him dead, "pop, pop, pop," says Ms. Omolulu-Olunloyo, a tall, flamboyant woman whose music blog shows her posing with stars like Kanye West and Busta Rhymes.
More than a third of the men listed on her white board were teenagers. "These are people's children," Ms. Omololu-Olunloyo says. She says it again for emphasis: " These … are … people's … children."
She has three sons herself, 24, 19 and 10. On the day of the 19-year-old's birthday this week, department store worker Billy Nathanson, also 19, was shot down outside his house near Jane and Sheppard, a victim of a recent spate of gun violence.
"I'm a mother. I can't imagine this happening. I have to speak out."