A politician? A leader? A community activist?
Shailene Panylo, is all of the above and then some. She ran in the federal election for the NDP in the riding of Oshawa in 2019. She was the runner-up. Panylo is a director at the Durham Black Students’ Network (DBSN), a licensed cosmetologist and the research and government relations coordinator at the Canadian Federation of Students.
She is only 24, but her young success came with struggles at an even younger age.
Shailene is an adopted child. She is a Black woman who grew up in an all-white family, in a majority white area of Oshawa. She struggled with her identity when she was young. Harassment from others had a great impact on how she viewed herself.
Now a mentor to young kids through her work with DBSN, Panylo often references a time in her younger life that pushed her into a place of misery.
“Grade 7 for me was the absolute worst year of my entire life,” says Panylo. “I struggled with suicide, depression, I was being harassed 24/7 in person, online, at school.”
She says there were times she was bullied by students, parents, teachers and the principal. She credits another one of the teachers for saving her life by checking on her. Those challenges faced at school have become the main motivator of her success today.
Panylo went to Maxwell Heights Secondary School and found a fresh start. After high school she obtained a Honours Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology, Immunology & Disease at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Her entrance to politics came as a surprise, even to her.
“I hate politics is what I would’ve told you a year and a half ago,” Panylo admits, “I’ve always envisioned politics as a very exclusive, performative thing.”
She was looking for a way to make change and already had been involved in grassroots organizations. She started off working as an assistant for Oshawa MPP Jennifer French for a year. French convinced her to get involved in politics to try to have a greater impact.
She won the NDP party nomination and was the runner-up to Conservative MP, Colin Carrie, who has held the riding since 2004. Carrie received 38.9 per cent of the votes, Panylo 28.5 per cent.
She still hopes to be Oshawa’s MP in the future. But her aspirations don’t stop there. “One day I would like to be the Prime Minister of this country,” said Panylo.
“The motivation comes with a new understanding of my own capacity and knowing that all these things I do and am a part of are so much bigger than just me.”
Her high school friend and colleague Melanie Manning sees Panylo’s potential to do special things.
“I just think she’s set out to do great things and she’s set out to do things that will make the world a fairer place,” says Manning.
Reflecting on her Grade 7 experiences, Panylo says she would advise her younger self: “Keep going and trust in the people around her who love her, know her and stop doubting and questioning her worth… it gets better.”