As Toronto’s first black police leader, Chief Mark Saunders is part of the city’s rich black history celebrated yearly during Black History Month.
He marked this year’s celebration by bringing his father, who turns 90 next month, to police headquarters for the event on February 20.
“I am sure there is no way 50 or 60 years ago, my dad would have been invited to a police facility to watch young black talent,” said Saunders. “Looking at today, we really do see that we are moving forward, but we have so much more to do. This journey doesn’t stop here.”
Saunders had a strong message for those who are achieving and are not using their positions of authority to help inspire others to succeed.
“Just because you have a position doesn’t mean you have done anything,” he said. “You must reach back to the bottom and pick up those who are trying to get to the top. If you just hold on to your position, it’s all for nothing. Honour your past, remember your roots, never be ashamed of the skin that you are in and be proud of the legacy that you are going to create.”
Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle said Black History Month presents a great opportunity to honour past contributions and look forward to the future with hope.
“Your energy and enthusiasm is infectious and obvious to all,” he said. “It also reminds us of the exceptional relationship between the Service and the public and particularly the relationship with our young people. This critical partnership must be fostered and celebrated.”
A talent show performance by four city schools highlighted the celebration.
The theme was, “Let the Path Be Open to Talent’.
“Today, we celebrate and honour the beautiful and moving artistic expression of our black youth and pay tribute to the great significance of black culture,” Pringle added. “As we nurture and support the work of our black artists, including our youth, we fortify an important cornerstone of the entire community…It is your talent, ideas, creativity, energy and dedication that will create your future paths and make you successful as students, friends, mentors and, I hope, as community leaders. You are the future and we have the greatest possible faith in your abilities to achieve whatever you set your minds to.”
Representatives from Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute, Kingsview Village Junior School, Richview Collegiate Institute and Francis Liebermann Catholic High School took part in the talent show.
Students from Calico Public School closed the show with an energetic dance performance.
Artist Ricai Kelly who, in the last two years has become a huge supporter of Toronto Police, presented a painting to Saunders.
This year’s ceremony was organized by the Divisional Policing Support Unit and Constable David Hopkinson of Corporate Communications was the Master of Ceremonies.
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.