Celebrating Black Trailblazers

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit

Three decades ago, Toronto Police Service (TPS) celebrated Black History Month (BHM) for the first time at headquarters.

Sergeant Terry James, who migrated from Grenada in her teenage years, conceived the observance celebration.

Joining the Service in the summer of 1980, she was among 10 women in her class of new officers – the largest at the time for one class.

Promoted to Sergeant in 2001 (she and retired Inspector Sonia Thomas were the first Black women to be elevated to Sergeant at the same time) James retired in September 2010 after 30 years.

To mark her contribution in playing the lead role in starting a BHM celebration at TPS and advocacy in making the Service more inclusive, a Trailblazer Award has been established in her name.

Former Ontario Black History Society President Rosemary Sadlier was the recipient of the inaugural award presented at the Service’s 30th BHM celebration on February 1.

“She is an award-winning author, advocate, consultant and speaker who has dedicated her life's work to elevating and celebrating black history in Canada,” said Toronto Police Services Board member Nadine Spencer.  “Indeed, her incredible work was central to the Canadian government’s 1995 decision to make the celebration of Black History Month a national annual event.”

Chief Myron Demkiw said the award will be presented annually to a distinguished Black Canadian.

“We have come a long way since Terry joined our ranks, in part because of Terry and others like her who challenged and continue to challenge the status quo, who pushed us to do better and be better,” said Demkiw.

James’ daughter, Crystal Devlin, represented her mother at the event.

“We are happy you are here to represent your mother,” said Demkiw. “She truly is a trailblazer and we are better for having had her among our ranks.”

The Chief reiterated the Service’s commitment to improving relations with the city’s Black community and to enhancing community safety and well-being.

“I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to be here today to be part of an event highlighting the importance of Black History Month and celebrating Black excellence together and recognizing that together, we can create hope for a brighter future,” he added.

Spencer said individuals and groups collaborating with a shared objective and working lead to safe, healthy and productive communities.

“Today’s event epitomizes the critical principles as we see the impressive results we can achieve when the community, the police and stakeholders – young and old – work together for the greater good,” she said. “Over the last several years, we have heightened our emphasis on connection with the community, consistently looking for ways to more meaningfully incorporate the voices and expectations of the public into our policy-making and decision-making process.

“We continue to work on comprehensive policing reform that includes building new community safety response models, initiatives to address systemic racism and concrete steps to improve trust with our communities. Fundamental to this reform remains a recognition of the significant role of anti-Black racism, discrimination and marginalization in our city, impacting policing along with many other public and private systems.”

This year’s celebration theme is ‘Honouring Your Past Leads to Conquering Your Future’.

For the first time, the Pan-African flag was raised at police headquarters.

“We are very pleased to have it flying at Toronto Police headquarters during this important month,” said Demkiw.

Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar Dr. Carter G. 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 is 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 Lanaya African Cultural Group gave a rousing performance and made sure everyone in attendance got on their feet.

The Service’s Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit (CPEU) led by Constable Curtis Celestine who is the Service’s Black liaison officer and Rose-Ann Bailey of the Equity, Inclusion & Human Rights Unit with support from Shannon Cartier of Corporate Communications, co-ordinated this year’s event.

 

Chief Myron Demkiw (right) is seen dancing along with Crystal Devlin (yellow) and other performers in a drum performance
Chief Myron Demkiw (right) was called up to join in a dance performance Photo: Brent Smyth

 

 

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