Kija Gray, left, and her mother Sonja E. James, voted together when Gray was growing up. Photo provided by Kija Gray
Kija Gray, left, and her mother Sonja E. James, voted together when Gray was growing up.

When Detroit resident Kija Gray votes, she brings a new generation of voters with her to bring about change.

DETROIT—Her mother did it, so she’s doing it, too.

Detroiter Kija Gray doesn’t just take her children to the polls and vote because it’s the right thing to do. The first-generation, Canadian-American resident [of Caribbean ancestry] pulls from her family’s examples that their matriarch set forth and now she forges a democratic path before her adult children to walk in.

“My mother was a teacher; she’s deceased now. She always took us [to vote]. She would get off of work and we would always go voting with her, even when [we were] little kids,” Gray said. “That was so important to see. I think it is primarily, it is a practice and a habit. One of the things I do…for my children. They need to see us doing that. She made it so we could see the process and understand that.”

Younger Kija Gray

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Inspired, Activated, Empowered

Gray, 52, has lived in the Detroit area since 1989 after growing up in Canada and graduating from the University of Windsor when the National Free Trade Agreement passed and decided to live in America. She married her American sweetheart but “never felt compelled” to get her citizenship.

“I was Canadian and very involved over there,” she said of the neighbor to the north, adding that the 2008 presidential election with US President Barack Obama changed all of that. “I realized I couldn’t vote. I was really invested, the world was invested.”

Gray couldn’t vote because she didn’t have citizenship to do so in this election, but she supported Obama, championed his campaign, and was able to vote come 2012. She was 44 years old voting in the 44th president of the United States.

“I was able to vote in 2012—first time voting in America [at] 44,” she said, adding that she was 18 years old when she voted for the first time in Canada. “My politics, my political affiliations haven’t changed much being a Canadian voter. I wouldn’t say I vote along party lines. I do stand for the liberal party [which] is very much like the Democratic party here.”

Gray added that she believes in the Democratic party because, “If we’re not all OK then none of us are OK.” 

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Detroit resident Kija Gray

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Moving the Next Generation Forward

She said growing up in Canada, she voted for the first time at 18 years old, and now that her son is 21 and her daughter is 18, she reflected on voting in her youth, and why others should vote for the youth.

“His ballot arrived today and so he’s on board this time in ways he wasn’t before,” Gray said, adding that her children are involved by watching their mother become involved. “We always went to the polls; even when I couldn’t vote I went with my husband.”

The first-generation Canadian said that young people should vote because even if they don’t believe in the candidate or that voting works, they should be a part of the conversation.

“If you’re not on the field you can’t make a play; you can’t really complain about what’s happening,” she said. “The only way to be a part of the conversation is to be engaged in the voting process. I think politics extends beyond just our federal government. Representation matters. We’re focused heavily on the presidential office but all these others bills and initiatives matter.”

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