For Kassim Doumbia, Shippagan is home.
Despite being born in Ivory Coast, and raised in Senegal, the 41-year-old has lived, worked and volunteered in the small northeastern New Brunswick town for the last 14 years.
And in the latest municipal election, residents there decided to make him their mayor.
“This election was very important to me because by being elected, I’m the first Black mayor in New Brunswick… so for me it’s like, ‘Wow, Shippagan people did really accept me in the community.
“So for the citizens to elect me as the mayor, they see me as someone from the community, so that means a lot to me.”
New Brunswick first appeared on Doumbia’s radar in the late 1990’s.
He was in his late teens, and deciding where in the world to go to continue his education, when a friend who was studying at the University of Moncton told him about the growing city and the opportunities there as a newcomer.
After successfully applying to its bachelor of computer science program, Doumbia, at 19, left Ivory Coast.
He’d return to visit his home country just once since, in 2006.
After finishing his degree, Doumbia said the crash of the dot-com bubble made it difficult to find work in his field, so he opted to go on to get a masters in business administration while interning at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton.
He graduated, and soon after, relocated to Tracadie-Sheila to take a tech job based in Paquetville.
In 2007, Doumbia and his wife, whom he’d met while at university, moved to Shippagan, in order to be close to her family. They now have two daughters, aged nine and 11.
In 2010, Doumbia said he started working as the executive assistant to then-Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou MLA Paul Robichaud — a role he said “sparked” his interest in municipal politics.
“I got to know the real people living in the community. So by working with Paul Robichaud, I was able to really connect with the struggle that the community — some people in the community — was living.
“I was enjoying that, so I said, ‘Why not apply to the council of the next election?’ And the next election came in 2012, and I decided to put my name and I was elected the first time.”
Doumbia served the full term, and went on to get re-elected in the 2016 election.
He now works as a program co-ordinator for the Department of Social Development’s public housing service, on top of his council role.
Marie-Lou Noël has worked directly with Doumbia since she was elected as a councillor for Shippagan in 2016.
But even before then, she’d already met Doumbia, and came to know him for what she describes is his easy-going, intelligent nature.
“He’s a really good guy with people. He’s really, really intelligent and he knows a lot,” Noël said.
“He was working for the government with Paul Robichaud at the time, so he has a lot of contacts and he puts this to the profit of our town.”
Noël, who was born in Quebec and moved to Shippagan 13 years ago, said she’s also proud of her town for showing its openness to newcomers by electing the province’s first Black mayor.
“I really, really have to say that I am so proud of our community, of our town, of our citizens. They are open-minded and it shows.”
With the swearing in ceremony to be held June 7, Doumbia said he’s looking forward to the four years ahead as mayor.
Some of the key files he wants to work on include attracting more jobs to the region, improving access to affordable housing, and providing programs to get young people better engaged with the community.
“So a lot of projects that I have in mind, and I’m looking forward to working with the new councillors that were elected to to make sure that the projects can move forward.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.