Neighbourhood Officer Constable Kent Vuong knows one of the greatest powers he has in his job is bringing people together to solve a community problem.
Over the past few years, graffiti tags have blighted the gateway to East Chinatown at Gerrard St. and Broadview Ave. where the Zhong Hua Men Archway stands. It’s a traditional Chinatown gate welcoming visitors to the bustling Asian business community. Behind the archway is a building constantly targeted by taggers.
Chinese Chamber of Commerce East Toronto Vice-President Valerie Mah and other community members have tried to keep the buildings free of illegal graffiti but had been unsuccessful.
“It’s very bad, but the disheartening thing is evey time you clean it up, it will be back in less than 48 hours,” said Mah, who is the Toronto Police Service Chinese Consultative Committee co-chair. “It’s very frustrating.”
Constable Vuong decided to link the business community with the budding artistic community in the Division. With the support of officers at 55 Division, he organized a mural contest for art students from Riverdale Collegiate Institute to beautify the wall.
“This is all on Constable Vuong,” said Mah, the Toronto District School Board’s first female Chinese principal. “He speaks Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin and he was able to effectively communicate with the community what he wanted to do and how it would be beneficial to them and this neighbourhood. We have been trying to do this clean-up without much success, particularly at the Gateway, which is a very visible part of the neighbourhood.”
Grade 13 student Alexi Li was excited to be part of the project. His drawing of a tiger is part of the art work on the wall.
“To most people, the tiger is seen as a ferocious and dangerous animal,” he said. “The tiger represents the power of the Chinese community and I depict here as calm and resting.”
Angel Carrillo, who has been painting murals since 1995, helped the students with the mural project to enhance the community’s vibrancy.
“I am just giving an interpretation of what they have given me to use to create something nice for this area,” he said. “It’s a fusion of a whole bunch of work that deals with Chinese culture. I have made it very nice and strong so that they have something that they can come back to and take pictures.”
TPS Auxiliary officers and 55 Division Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) students Edceljeric Jabis, Peter Dadesse and Saravanan Phazakni helped with the assignment.
“I joined the YIPI program to help the community and gain valuable work experience,” said Phazakni. “That’s why I am out here today doing my part.”
Vuong thanked the participants for their support.
“This was a team effort and it shows when a group of people come together to make a difference, what can happen,” he said. “We also have to thank the business owner because we had to get his permission to do this.”