Run in with cops gave Orlando Bowen new focus

Former Toronto Argonauts linebacker, Orlando Bowen, was beaten by two Peel police officers in a Mississauga restaurant parking lot some eight years ago which left him with a concussion, a nasty gash on his forehead and blackened eyes.

Bowen alleged at the time that one of the officers planted drugs on him.

The cop was found guilty of seven criminal charges in June 2010, including charges related to the disappearance of fake cocaine that was being used in an RCMP sting and is currently serving a sentence of almost six years in a federal jail.

Bowen was acquitted of drugs and assaulting police charges and a $14.6 million lawsuit he filed against the Peel Regional Police and several officers was settled out of court.

The harrowing ordeal might have scarred Bowen, but it did not break his spirit or deter him from pursuing his passion of working with young people.

Now the executive director of One Voice, One Team, which empowers young people to utilize their leadership gifts and talents through sport and fun activities, he joins 27 other aspiring city builders in a year-long DiverseCity Fellows leadership and networking program.

“I am definitely humbled to be in such esteemed company,” Bowen says. “The quality, talent and accomplishments of the group are simply amazing. It’s also an honour to know that an organization like ours, which is passionate about engaging youths, is recognized as an important piece of how we can move the Greater Toronto Area forward.”

Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Bowen was brought to Toronto at age three and attended Brampton Centennial Secondary School where he excelled in basketball, soccer, football and track and field. He earned a full scholarship to Northern Illinois University where he secured a business marketing degree and a Master of Science degree in Information Technology Management.

He spent five seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats before the concussion he suffered at the hands of the police forced him to quit the sport.

“I learned a lot of things from that incident,” he said. “I learned what it means to feel alone, what it means to feel like nobody in the world could possibly understand what you are going through and also what it means to feel under-valued or less than human.”

Bowen, who is also a motivational speaker, said the nightmare was a blessing in disguise.

“It gave me real perspective and added a significant element of understanding to the work we do as an organization,” he said. “I was able to relate to young people on a whole different level. I was connecting with them before, but now it’s on a whole new level. It also made me a better father, husband and community advocate.”

This year’s distinguished group of Fellows which was unveiled last week also includes Jabari Lindsay and Okeima Lawrence.

A graduate of Humber College’s Social Service Worker Program, Lindsay is a project manager with the City of Toronto.

“I have been working with the city since 2000, trying to help young people become engaged in the real world,” Lindsay said. “My parents are immigrants from Grenada and it means a lot for them to see one of their children fully involved in the lives of other youths. They are proud of that and the fact that I am now being identified as a city builder.”

A United Way of Greater Toronto community investment manager, Lawrence is a youth advocate and the youngest member ever of the Toronto Public Library board.

DiverseCity co-chair John Tory said this year’s Fellows bring a lot to the table.

“This is a group to watch,” he said. “They are bringing solutions and new perspectives to the increasingly complex issues facing our city region.”

Over the next year, the Fellows will be paired with mentors, meet with emerging and established leaders, assess their own leadership skills and work in multi-sectoral teams to address city-building challenges.

The action-oriented leadership development program for rising city builders was launched four years ago. It comprises four integrated streams of activities – interactive learning sessions, network connections, a mentoring relationship and city-building projects.


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