Members of Calgary’s East African community join hands to celebrate Black History Month and build stronger relationships with law enforcement.
An event organized by the Immigrant Outreach Society (ISO) titled “Navigating the Path of Healing Between CPS and African Youth” was held at the Calgary Ethiopian Community Association on Saturday.
ISO Executive Director Adanech Sahilie says it is important for young people in the East African community to understand that they can trust the police and work together to keep them away from criminal activity.
“When we talk about systemic discrimination, I think we all have to work to minimize this huge gap in order to stop it,” Sahilie said.
“So by bringing these two groups together and creating this platform, we will certainly minimize the animosity between the CPS and our young people.”
The event featured young children from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia who all had the opportunity to ask questions and speak with Calgary police officers who have also immigrated to Canada from African countries.
Nardos Tecle immigrated to Canada from Eritrea when he was 12 years old. She says conversations with Calgary police are important in breaking down boundaries and creating an understanding of systemic racism from all angles.
“We have to dig deep. It hurts to dig a scar, doesn’t it? But the point is to create a new connection. You start over, and then you build trust,” she said.
“If you smash the conversation, you really feel like you’re being censored, and that doesn’t really build trust.”
Others, like Sunday Kher, came to Canada from South Sudan as refugees. The dialogue he had with the police at his home was one of mistrust and fear, but he hopes to change that.
“I come from an area where these outlets that these kids usually go to are very dangerous,” he said.
“And so we have this thing where we’re afraid of the police, you know, we don’t feel like they’re helping us. So I think these discussions are necessary so that we can go back to trusting them, to really understand how they feel.”
SPC Inspector Avril Martin agrees and says these types of conversations with young people are important in building young people’s confidence and preventing them from going down the wrong path.
“We want to make sure that we are intervening at this appropriate stage, at the prevention stage, before it gets to this critical crisis stage,” Martin said.
“So if we can make a strong connection with our youth, at a very young age, that lays the foundation for the future.”
Conversations focused on the role of the police, the type of community support available, and the type of police function in schools.
“Our volunteer programs are very open,” added Martin.
“I think our young people are more inclined now, as we build that confidence with us, to come and enjoy the programs as well.”