There was a time when nothing could have separated Paul Douglas from Trinidad & Tobago’s carnival.
Times, however, change and the urge to experience the milestones of his four grown children far supersede personal likings, even carnival’s jump up and wave vibes and the sweet strains of pan music.
While the carnival celebrations in T&T were winding down last Tuesday, Tobago-residents Paul and wife Linda Douglas were in Toronto attending the Toronto Police Service (TPS) fourth annual International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration at which their daughter – Constable Allyson Douglas-Cooke – was recognized for her courage and leadership as a School Resource Officer (SRO) for the past three years at Westview Centennial Secondary School.
“Once upon a time, no money or nothing could have made me leave hot T & T at this time of year to go anywhere much less come to cold Canada in winter,” said Douglas, a former band leader and arranger with Westside Symphony steel orchestra which performed for Princess Margaret on her 1957 honeymoon and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Caribbean island two years later.
“Allyson is the youngest of our children who have all done well for themselves and we are very proud of the recognition she’s receiving today and wanted to be here to share this special moment with her.”
One of 50 Toronto police officers assigned to city public and catholic schools under the SRO initiative launched in 2008 to strengthen relations with students and assist in providing a safe environment, Douglas-Cooke said she was honoured to be recommended for the award.
“I feel so blessed to be an SRO because I have these wonderful students that I work with,” she said. “I have to thank Mrs. McKenzie for opening up her classroom to give me the platform to bridge the gap between myself and the students because there was so much uncertainty when I first started.”
Douglas-Cooke also welcomed her parents’ presence at the celebration at police headquarters.
“I think of International Women’s Day and I think of my mother who is the best role model I have,” said the five-year officer. “She’s a strong and beautiful woman who taught me what it took to be a strong woman myself.”
The English and Social Sciences teacher graduated from Michigan and London, Ontario universities with degrees in speech pathology, audiology and education and has volunteered as an overseas missionary and in local prisons.
She dedicated the award to her mother, who she said is the wind beneath her wings, and her daughter both of whom attended the event.
“I took my daughter out of school today because I wanted her to understand that God blessed her to be born a girl and that one day she would become a woman and there is nothing that she would not be able to accomplish,” said McKenzie-Dowe.
She also showered praise on Douglas-Cooke for her dedication and commitment.
“I am so proud of Officer Allyson as she is known in our hallways,” she said. “I appreciate the volume of counselling she has done to students who, because of her tutelage and guidance, may never have to see the inside of a jail cell. But, more than doing, Allyson is a woman of integrity and a straight shooter. She takes her job seriously, but she has immense compassion.”
SRO Amy Handsor, who has been with the Toronto Police Service for 11 years, and Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School Drama teacher Shelley Quan King Blake along with TPS Information & Technology Service manager Deidra White were also honoured.
The theme of this year’s celebration was “Inspiration Through Education & Technology”.
“Our theme reflects the belief that as we educate those around us using technology to reach a larger audience, we will enable women everywhere to succeed and to reach their fullest,” said TPS Board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee.
He added the world still has a long way to go before women and girls enjoy equal access to opportunity, to a future of promise and to a life of dignity and respect without victimization.
Mukherjee said this year’s recipients are shining examples of successful women.
“It’s because of people like these that we are able to maintain Toronto’s position as a city of safe, healthy and happy neighbourhoods,” he said. “We honour these magnificent women and thank them for their gift of time with incredible energy and compassion.
“Strong women create a strong world and, closer to home, they create a strong community, a strong workplace, a strong police service and we as a whole are enriched and inspired by their contributions.”
In the feature address, Staff Superintendent Jane Wilcox said the five awardees represent the impressive results of equal access to education and technology and are outstanding examples of how a community benefits from the full participation of women.