Walking the beat for the first time as a Sergeant in Regent Park was a life-changing experience for Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.
“As he was passing me, a constable in a squad car stopped, rolled his window down and beckoned me to come over,” recalled Sloly, at the Toronto Police Service’s annual Black History Month launch at Nelson Mandela Park Public School on January 30. “He said ‘Sarge, we don’t go in there’. That shocked me and I asked him why. He proceeded to tell me that it’s dangerous and they don’t like us.
“I said, we are the police for here and how are we not supposed to go in here. If they don’t like us in here, that’s our job to fix that. That interaction changed the way I view policing and the way I was doing everything in my life. I realized, at that point, that something had gone very badly wrong.”
Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar Dr. Carter Woodson who, in an attempt to spread the concept of African-American history, suggested its celebration during a week in the middle of February.
That month was chosen because it’s the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and the chosen birth month of Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave and therefore was unsure of his actual birth date.
Prior to joining the Toronto Police Services Board as its chair, Alok Mukherjee did community outreach and race relations functions for the Toronto District School Board.
“It’s such a delight for me to come back to this school,” he told the students and teachers. “This was one of my favorite schools to come and spend time in. I am so pleased to see that the tradition of teaching about social justice and human rights continues in this school to this day.”
Mukherjee reiterated that the Board is committed to maintaining and enhancing relations with all the communities that make up the City of Toronto.
“This very much includes developing a strong partnership with, and paying attention to, the expectations of the city’s vibrant and diverse black community,” he noted. “An important element of this relationship is honouring and celebrating the history, culture and accomplishments of all groups in our city. The annual Black History Month is one such opportunity. We are all here today to honour, respect and reflect on a century of the history and heritage of African-Canadians and the African Diaspora.”
The theme of this year’s celebration was “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.”
The Service’s Divisional Policing Support Unit and 51 Division played instrumental roles in hosting the event, attended by Councillors Pam McConnell and Chin Lee, South Africa’s consul general in Toronto, Naymeko Goso, and several senior TPS officers.
Retired Sergeant Terry James came up with the idea of hosting an annual Black History Month celebration at police headquarters in 1994.