She likkle but she tallawah.
The Jamaican saying that translates to small, but sturdy or strong fits Constable Jennifer Dekezel.
Eight years ago, she started the Pro Action Cops & Kids-sponsored “Girlz will be Girlz” mentoring program after being approached by an elementary school principal in her Division, seeking help for some of his female students.
The 54 Division Community Response Unit officer was honoured for her dedication and leadership with a Special Recognition Award at the 24th annual Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) awards gala on May 7 in Scarborough.
Touched by the honour and audience’s gratitude, Dekezel could hardly contain her emotions.
“Those tears were shed because I was overwhelmed by the love I felt in that room,” she said. “It’s the first time I have had so many people stand up to acknowledge what I am doing. I never expected the whole room to rise.”
Starting with just four girls, nearly 25 students, between eight and 17, are enrolled in the mentorship program.
“I remember putting my hand up to be that mentor and not really knowing what to do,” said Dekezel. “After a few months, it became apparent that all the girls needed was some guidance, love and attention.”
Last year, Dekezel used her personal financial resources and time to accompany one of the program participants to Florida to meet her father for the first time.
“When she expressed her desire to meet her dad, I could relate to her because I was adopted and I never met one of my parents until I was 18 years old,” said the officer. “I will never forget that young lady’s joy when she walked out of the airport and saw her dad for the first time. They embraced warmly and we all cried.”
Dekezel, who grew up in a rural Manitoba town with about 400 residents, has never met her father, who migrated from Trinidad and Tobago. Her mother is of Italian descent.
Knowing that her father is “Trini” opened her eyes to her culture and she has been playing mas’ for the last 18 years at the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival.
Special Recognition awards were also presented to Court Officer Angela Huggan and Staff Sergeant Ron Khan, assigned to the Divisional Policing Support Unit Transit Patrol.
Employed with the Service since July 1993, Huggan was the Court Services Young Offender Training Officer and a participant in the United Way Sponsored Employee program.
In 2005, she was recognized for raising a considerable sum of money to assist ABLE with hosting the National Black Police Association conference in Toronto.
“I love giving back and helping wherever and whenever I can,” said Huggan, who has been a Christie-Ossington Neighbourhood Centre Homeless Shelter volunteer since 2000.
ABLE was established in 1992 to, among other things, encourage racial harmony and cultural pride in the law enforcement community and the wider society, promote and protect the interests of blacks and other racial minorities in the profession, and work closely with law enforcement agencies to stimulate and facilitate employment equity programs.
The organization, which also advocates against racial profiling by police, launched a student funding program 22 years ago that has awarded 137 scholarships worth nearly $160,000.
The scholarships are presented in the names of Rose Fortune and Peter Butler III, Canada’s first black law enforcement officers. Fortune was a self-appointed policewoman in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in the late 1700s, while Butler served for 23 years with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), before retiring in 1936.
This year’s scholarship recipients were Chauntae de Gannes, Cassandra Thomas, Kevin Clercin, Janelle Rennalls, Lincoln Williamson and Teneal Alexander.
In congratulating the students, Chief Mark Saunders reminded the recipients much is expected of them.
“You have an opportunity, tonight, to listen to some people who have tremendous wisdom and they have that through life skills and things they have gone through,” he said. “It is up to you to listen and learn so that you could become better than us. You can’t sit on the fence because you will go nowhere. When you get on the inside, you get to sit down with lawmakers and the people who make policies and governance. You will have an active role in moulding and shaping the future and you will leave a large footprint and legacy.”
Senior officers Reuben Stroble and Sonia Thomas and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle also took part in the gala.