Sylla brings diverse international background to bid for council

It is rare to encounter someone with a background as diverse as that of Democratic Cleveland Heights City Council candidate Keba Sylla.

Originally from Paris, with parents from Senegal, Sylla has lived in Cleveland Heights for 15 years. He was educated at University Paul Verlaine-Metz in France, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in history. 

Sylla’s interest in politics blossomed early, and he ran for student council at the university level in France. His work carried him over to the United States in Washington D.C., where he worked at the French to Africa division of Voice of America, a government broadcasting system that informs countries around the world about American ideals and democracy. Eventually, Sylla moved to Cleveland, where he met his wife.

Sylla says he believes that his international perspective and education will have a positive impact on the city if he is elected. This is Sylla’s second attempt at running for council. He also ran in 2009.

Sylla offers expertise in criminology and public administration. A professor of criminal justice studies and public administration at the University of Akron since 2007, he has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology from Kent State University, as well as a doctorate in public administration and urban affairs.

Foreclosure is a critical issue that affects not only the city’s appearance but also its crime rates, Sylla said. “Some areas in this city are completely depressed,” he says, while others are thriving. He wants to focus on revamping the neglected areas by tearing down or reconstructing forsaken buildings.

He suggests encouraging new cultural and economic talent to breathe new life into the area. “We have to encourage economic growth,” Sylla says. And he has acted on that belief as a member of the Cleveland Heights Citizen Advisory Committee since 2006, working to attract new companies to the city. His work with the committee has helped him become familiar with the issues that Cleveland Heights faces, he said.

Sylla also emphasizes training the city’s youth, helping them get jobs and encouraging them to stay in Cleveland Heights. “Lately we’ve been seeing a decline in population in the city,” he states, calling this the most pressing issue the city faces.

Here again, he has taken action, working since 2002 in the Upward Bound program at Cuyahoga Community College, which helps prepare inner-city students for college. Sylla teaches them French, Spanish, geography, history and the U.S. criminal justice system, as well as serving as a mentor for students.

Felisa Eafford, director of the Upward Bound program at Cuyahoga Community College, describes Sylla as a helpful instructor during his several years of involvement in the program.  “He’s gone above and beyond in his role,” she says of his work with the students.

If elected, he says he hopes to promote active communication between residents and council. While citizens often come to the council with ideas and concerns, it is the council’s responsibility to promote awareness and involve citizens in community affairs.

“We have to communicate very clearly,” he says. “It goes two ways.” 

Sylla expressed thanks to citizens of Cleveland Heights for their welcoming attitude and political engagement as he campaigned door-to-door.  

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a student at John Carroll University who is following this candidate for her journalism class. 

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Volume 4, Issue 11, Posted 1:54 PM, 10.25.2011