“Hopefully, we will meet in court sometime.”
Those were Munira Abukar’s parting words to Waymond Tavernier after their brief meeting at last week’s Toronto Police Service (TPS) Black History Month launch at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. They were the recipients of the Hand-in-Hand Awards, presented to youth leaders advocating for the reduction of violence and bullying in their communities.
Abukar is an aspiring criminal lawyer while Tavernier intends to become a police officer.
The fourth of nine children and the daughter of Somali immigrants, Abukar said the frequent targeting of her brother by police inspired her to pursue law studies.
“It was difficult watching my only brother (he’s now a member of the Canadian Armed Forces) being stopped and questioned by police,” said the Ryerson University third-year criminal justice student. “That helped to fuel my passion for the career path I am pursuing.”
A graduate of Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy, Abukar is an active youth leader. The Toronto social housing resident is a Toronto Community Housing director and member of several organizations, including the Somali Tenant Association and the Canada-Bolivia sub-committee.
Raised in Malvern after migrating from Dominica in 1996, Tavernier said he’s inspired to become a cop because he wants to make a change in the city.
“Too many of my friends have gone down or are on the wrong path and I am just tired of seeing my kind of people (be) the problem,” said the Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School graduate, who is enrolled in Centennial College’s police foundations program. “I want to be the solution.”
The Keith Forde Youth of Excellence Service Award was also presented during the TPS’s 19th annual Black History Month celebration. The service’s first Black deputy chief, Forde retired in 2010 after 38 years on the job.
Youth leader, Kwesi Johnson, who recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a Master’s in Sociology & Equity Studies, was the winner of the award established three years ago by the Black Community Police Consultative Committee (BCPCC).
It’s bestowed on a student who exemplifies leadership and community involvement and reflects society’s best and brightest.
“I had the distinct privilege of meeting the retired deputy as a young man growing up in the Malvern community,” said Johnson, who won a Harry Jerome Academic Award in 2010. “For me to receive an award that bears his name is truly remarkable and humbling.”
Born in Guyana, Johnson – a former BCPCC vice-chair and treasurer – spent six years in Jamaica before coming to Canada 18 years ago. Realizing that young people in the Malvern community where he lived for just over a decade before moving to Markham needed leadership and direction, he stepped into action.
Gang and gun violence was prevalent and too many young people were disengaged from structured after-school programs at community centres. As a result, Johnson directed a summer day camp, coached basketball and soccer and was a special events coordinator in the community. He also served on the Malvern Intergenerational After-School Steering Committee, the Malvern Youth Cabinet and the Malvern Community Coalition.
BCPCC co-chair, Margaret Brimpong, said Johnson fully deserves the accolade.
“He has demonstrated his ongoing commitment to transforming the image of youths living in his neighbourhood,” she said. “He has a passion for working with youths and understanding various mental health issues and other challenges they face.”
This year’s Black History Month event celebrated Black history makers, including Sonia Thomas, Jamaal Magloire and Michael Thompson.
Just over five decades after Gloria Bartley became the first African-Canadian woman to join the TPS, Sonia Thomas made history two years ago as Canada’s first Black female Inspector. Magloire was the first Canadian-born basketball player to appear for the Toronto Raptors while Thompson is the only Black on Toronto’s city council. He is also vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. He was re-elected with the highest margin of victory in the last two municipal elections.
Chief Bill Blair said it’s necessary and vital to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Canadians.
“It’s important if we are going to become the country we aspire to be that every person in our society be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said. “Part of that dignity and respect is recognizing the contributions that communities have made to this great city and country. The contributions that the Black community has made are important.”
Under Blair’s watch, Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders – he was the first African-Canadian to head the homicide unit – have joined Forde as deputy chiefs; Thomas became Canada’s first Black female Inspector and Tony Riviere and Dave McLeod were elevated to divisional unit commanders.
In 1994, the now retired Sergeant Terry James conceived the idea for the Service’s Black History Month celebration.