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UofGH grads inspired by Convocation speech

Photo of Jacqueline Edwards speaking at a lectern

Humber College alumna Jacqueline Edwards delivered a rousing keynote speech at the University of Guelph-Humber’s Convocation helping graduating U of GH students celebrate and reflect on their achievement with inspiring and insightful lessons from her long career in law enforcement and public service.

Edwards who is the President of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE), addressed a cohort of graduates from the University of Guelph-Humber’s Justice Studies and Psychology programs and offered a moving and motivational speech urging the new graduates to be leaders, advocates, and difference-makers in their communities as they advance in their professional careers.

ABLE is a non-profit organization that addresses the needs and concerns of Black and other racial minorities in law enforcement.

“It is an absolute pleasure to join today’s graduates and their loved ones to celebrate this momentous occasion,” said Edwards, who is also Manager, Assessment and Interventions, with The Correctional Service of Canada. “You selected the University of Guelph-Humber to lay the foundation that you will build on as you navigate spaces that require a commitment to service, a commitment to community, and a commitment to purpose.

“I’d like to encourage you to never lose sight of the incredible responsibility that will be bestowed upon you in your chosen field and professions. I’d like to encourage you to give back to your community and to your family here at Guelph-Humber.

“I’d like to encourage you to raise awareness on equality, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Stand up and stand out against all forms of racism and discrimination. Be bold, be courageous, stay your course, pursue your goals, and stay true to your purpose.”

A career in community advocacy

Certainly, those personal and professional values have served Edwards well over the course of her nearly 30-year career in law enforcement.

Edwards knew from a young age that this was the field for her. Though she wasn’t sure initially which exact role might be right for her, Edwards has felt a calling to contribute to her community for as long as she can remember.

“I came to Canada when I was 7 years old from Jamaica. My first introduction to law enforcement was the immigration officer who greeted my family when we got off the plane,” Edwards recalls. “I just knew soon after that I wanted a profession that was steeped in providing service to the community.

“Law enforcement is about a calling, I think. I felt a call to duty, a call to serve, and a call to positively impact my community. I think that’s a big part of what attracted me to the profession.”

Over the course of her long career, Edwards has tackled a variety of different professional roles and challenges. After beginning her career as a Correctional Officer in a male medium security facility, she has since taken on a wide variety of roles and positions within her field, including senior management, communications, regional outreach, public affairs, and data analysis.

Along the way, Edwards has seized opportunity after opportunity to get involved with equality and inclusivity initiatives, taking on a series of roles and volunteer appointments aimed at boosting employment equity and creating more positive associations between law enforcement and Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities.

“You hear things on the news about law enforcement and it’s not always positive. I think I have always wanted to make a positive impact in that space. As a Black woman, I felt an increased sense of responsibility and drive for me because there aren’t a lot of Black or racialized individuals in the profession, and I do want to provide a positive image in that way,” Edwards says.

“I come from a culture where community is just critical to who we are. I honestly feel that everything I do has always been about community. How can I contribute? How can I impact, how can I influence, how can I empower? How can I just be available in a time of need?

“That was something that was instilled in me at a very young age and I’m grateful to my family for that.”

That drive to make a difference in her community was what initially attracted Edwards to ABLE.

Long before she was voted President by her peers in the organization, she received the inaugural ABLE Scholarship and Community Service Award as a Humber College student in 1993. ABLE and the University of Guelph-Humber now have a long-standing relationship, with ABLE and UofGH partnering to host the annual Justice Career Fair for more than a decade.

When she was asked to address the graduates at Convocation, Edwards didn’t hesitate. It was another new challenge that she was eager to tackle.

“I just said: Count me in. It’s such an honour to share such a special time in a student’s life — when you can be part of celebrating someone else’s milestone and be a part of their success story? What an honour,” Edwards recalls.

“I wanted to just encourage the students to be themselves — their authentic selves. I wanted them to know their ‘why’ — why are you getting involved in this space? Why do you want to give back? “I think I’ve known my ‘why’ since Day 1, and I haven’t veered from that.”