Celebrating Leaders at Black History Month

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 12:12 p.m. February 26, 2019

There are countless young black leaders poised to make outstanding contributions to society, says Chief Mark Saunders.

Two people dancing on stage
Etobicoke School of Arts dancers were among the performers at the Black History Month event

Chief Saunders reminded those at the Service’s Black History Month celebration on February 25 at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre that the future is in good hands.

“When you sit down to talk to our young people, you find out they are strong, they are vibrant and they know where they are going,” he said. “That’s why we have to make sure we have those moments to teach them history so they can have a true understanding of why they are here.”

The theme of this year’s celebration was “The Future is Now.”

Saunders thanked the JCA for hosting the event.

“Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have had a platform here,” he noted. “We wouldn’t have come to a Black community as law enforcement saying. “Let’s work together, let’s have events together, let’s figure out how we can become stronger. 

“When we talk about Toronto Police and the goals we are trying to reach every day and understanding the importance of community and the value it brings when it comes to community safety, having this event outside headquarters is significant. When we had it in our home, we listened and we heard. Now we are going to different houses and asking if we can come to your home and celebrate with you. Thank you for allowing us into this environment that has so much history.”

A girl playing a violin
Abigail Kennedy performs at the Jamaican Canadian Association

On behalf of the Service, Saunders presented Certificates of Appreciation to former JCA president Audrey Campbell, who, with Inspector Stacy Clarke, co-chaired the Police & Community Engagement Review (PACER) that focused on how the Service could enhance public trust and safety while delivering a bias free service, and the Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN)

Executive director Floydeen Charles-Fridal and vice-chair Maureen Henry accepted the certificate on behalf of the organization that provides culturally appropriate services that enrich the lives of the African, Caribbean and diasporic communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Chief also paid tribute to Inspector Sonia Thomas who retires at the end of March. 

She made history eight years ago by becoming Toronto Police’s first Black female senior officer.

“You have to understand the role you play,” he told her. “There are young women looking at you and when they do that, they see hope. That is all we want to give our kids. If we give them hope, they can move mountains.”

The event featured youth testimonials along with song, dance and spoken word by members of the Etobicoke School of the Arts choir.

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Ken Jeffers said the cultural performances reflected the spirit of Black artists like Billie Holliday and Bob Marley.

“You are the communicators of your stories and experiences through your art, your movements and your voices and you pay a great honour to our heritage,” Jeffers said. “You too must speak for yourselves and represent your hopes and objectives. Do not always leave it up to us as adults to speak for you.

“Young people, it’s your talent, your ideas, your creativity, your energy and your dedication that will create your future paths and make you successful – as students, as friends, as mentors and as community leaders. You are the future now and we have the greatest faith in your ability to succeed in all that you do.”

John O’Dell, the Black Community Consultative Committee Chair, told the youths they have the ability and responsibility to achieve.

A man with in TPS uniform with two women holding a certificate
Maureen Henry, Chief Mark Saunders and Floydeen Charles-Fridal

“Don’t allow yourselves to be caught up in anyone else’s drama,” he said. “Remember that you are here for a purpose. Take time to assess what that is and make that your goal. There may be bumps along the way and there will certainly be some disappointment, but you must remember we are strong, resilient and a determined people who will always persevere.”

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. Constable Isabelle Cotton of the Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit spearheaded the organization of this year’s event.

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