Chief Mark Saunders didn’t have to look very far to find someone to inspire him.
Just 23 years before he joined the Service, Jamaican-born Larry McLarty broke the colour barrier, becoming the city’s first black police officer.
The trailblazer passed away last December.
“Larry paved the way for me and many others,” said Saunders, at the Toronto Police Service’s Black History Month celebration at C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute on February 13. “He broke the glass ceiling. I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t have a champion like Larry.”
Saunders presented a clock to McLarty’s widow, Nona McLarty, who attended the event.
He also thanked the school for opening its doors to his officers to host the event, organized by the Divisional Policing Support Unit.
“In the past, we brought people to our headquarters to celebrate,” Saunders said. “When you are allowed to come out into the community, there is so much more energy and it’s more exciting. It gives us an opportunity to look at a room of young men and women. When I look out here, I see hope. You are our future and our responsibility is to invest in you. It’s you who are going to fix the problems that we create.”
Saunders became the city’s first black police chief in May 2015.
Toronto Police Services Board Member Mayor John Tory told the students that Saunders is part of Canada’s recent history.
“He’s doing a wonderful job, for us, keeping our city safe and leading a group of men and women who serve us each and every day,” said Tory. “That’s part of our history as well. I hope you will take the lessons learned from this month and make sure they inspire you to believe that anything is possible for anybody because that is what we believe and that is something that is going to be important for us to continue to believe in this city.
“As you see those stories and you hopefully get inspired, don’t give up on your dreams. There is always somebody and a story that can inspire you. Be inspired by those stories and get help to keep dreaming your dreams.”
Ken Jeffers, another TPSB member, said it was clear that the students welcomed the opportunity to have the police come to their school to celebrate Black History Month.
“Your energy and enthusiasm are obvious to all,” he pointed out. “It also reminds me of the importance of the relationship between the police service and the public, particularly our young people.”
C.W. Jefferys is ranked among one of the most improved high schools in the Greater Toronto Area and the principal’s work has not gone unnoticed.
Dr. Monday Gala is the only black principal from across the country who made the 2017 Canada Outstanding Principals (COP) Top 40 list.
“Sometimes, the inspiration is right in front of us,” said Dr. John Malloy, the TDSB Director of Education. “Your principal is a role model for me and all of us. Sometimes, we look far away for the person who can inspire us.”
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 unsure of his actual birth date.
The Service has celebrated Black History Month since 1994.