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UofGH hosts first-of-its-kind community safety forum

In working toward safer communities in the GTA, UofGH partners with Toronto Community Housing

21-year-old Teddy Fordjour describes what he calls his ‘low-income mentality’ from when he was younger:  “I had nothing, so I thought I had nothing to lose.”

Fordjour grew up as a tenant of Toronto Community Housing (TCH), the city’s largest public housing agency; he says this attitude was common among youth in his neighbourhood.

“We were bored, and so would look for stuff to do.  And from this would come negative attention,” he says.  “I never really understood why the police seemed to harass us when I was younger.”   

Fordjour would eventually begin volunteering with TCH when they struck up a partnership with the Jays Care Foundation – the charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He credits this experience for the next part of his story.

“I started working alongside the police while running programs for TCH.  I now understand why [the police] do certain things, or ask certain questions.  It made me see them in a different way,” he says.

Teddy Fordjour’s new perspective is the reason why TCH has partnered with the University of Guelph-Humber’s Justice Studies Program in hosting a first-of-its-kind day devoted to community safety.

Toronto Police, OJEN gather at UofGH

Representatives from the Ontario Justice Education Network, the Toronto Police Service, the African Canadian Legal Clinic and others gathered with more than one hundred youth from TCH at the University.  The crux of the goal:  improving relationships between the youth who live in TCH communities and the police officers who work there, all in the name of improving safety.

“There’s a portion of this that is reactionary – that is as a result of the violence we’ve witnessed this year,” says Munira Abukar, who sits on TCH’s Board of Directors.  Abukar is referring to a spate of shootings in the GTA, including when more than 20 people were injured and two killed one summer on Danzig St. in Scarborough.  “But there’s another portion that aims to make this a long-term commitment.”

Abukar looks around at the volumes of conversations taking place:  “It’s quite amazing to see so many young faces in the room.  These are the game-changers and revolutionaries in their communities.  It’s exciting to see these formal and informal conversations happening,” she says.

Playing his part in these conversations is Glenn Hanna, Assistant Program Head of Justice Studies at UofGH.  “In many ways, interaction between police officers and citizens can be a very grey area; it’s not necessarily always black and white.  So we’re trying to paint some of that grey area today for these youth,” he says.

Hanna is quick to point out the benefits of these interactions help all sides of the equation:  “While it’s important for these youth to hear a police officer’s perspective, it’s likewise just as important for UofGH to be hearing from the community.  We have faculty members here, we have students here, we have community members here…  it keeps us connected and informed so that we can do our part as educators for the future.”

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