We’ve all had something thrown at us that we weren’t expecting and we’ve had to grow up fast. We’re doing our best to do everything. We’re strong and we’re smart. I have a very positive perception of myself.” – Parents Centre: Humewood House Resident
Youth-Police Dialogues at Humewood House
On the evening of December 4th, about a dozen young mothers, residents of 1900 Sheppard – Parents Centre: Humewood House in Toronto, gathered in the building’s activity centre for the final session of OJEN’s Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD) program. Over the previous 8 weeks, the young women had juggled jobs and parenting responsibilities to take part in the program.
OJEN’s Youth-Police Dialogues program is a multi-session, interactive program designed to improve relationships in communities experiencing tensions between youth and the police. Young people bring lots of ideas to the table about what could be done to improve community relationships with the police. Since the program was launched in 2014, it has been offered throughout Ontario in Toronto, Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Sudbury.
A Conversation with the Police and a Documentary
The young women—guided by OJEN staff and justice sector volunteers—examined youth-police relations within their communities, problem solved contentious issues, and learned advocacy skills and effective communications strategies.
Despite having had negative interactions with the police in the past, many of the young people participating in the program are receptive to meeting with police officers. The young women deliberated and prepared a series of questions that they wanted to ask the officers. Later on, the young women had the opportunity to sit down with the officers to have an open and honest conversation.
The young women then enlisted the help of Regent Park Focus and collaborated on a documentary video regarding their experience and discussion with the police. After three weeks of filming, the participants showcased the completed video to their peers, residents, program partners, and justice system professionals at the Humewood House YPD culminating event. Ryan Teshner, the Executive Director of the Toronto Police Services Board, was one of the justice sector professionals who attended the event. The participants felt both a little self-conscious and proud of their work when they watched the final cut of the video.
The Impressive Young Women
(Photo: Constable Milton Ferguson and Constable Jennifer Nantais in OJEN Youth Police Dialogues) The attitude of the young women from Humewood House impressed Eki Okungbowa, the student project officer assisting this Youth-Police Dialogues program. Among the most vulnerable youth OJEN works with, these young single mothers are working to create a life for themselves and their children. They showed initiative and commitment during their participation in the program.
“I believe the most valuable aspect of the program for the young mothers who took part was the opportunity to voice their concerns about the police to the police. Many times, youth talk amongst themselves about the issues regarding youth-police interactions, but are not offered a safe and conducive platform to frame their experiences as a dialogue and potential way forward in bettering police services. The young mothers offered a very unique perspective, talking on behalf of themselves as youth with lived experience, and on behalf of their young children.” – Eki
In the final seconds of the video, one of the police officers asks them: “How do you perceive yourselves?”
Confidently, one young woman replies, “We’ve all had something thrown at us that we weren’t expecting and we’ve had to grow up fast. We’re doing our best to do everything. We’re strong and we’re smart. I have a very positive perception of myself.”
The police officer smiles at her and says, “That’s how I see you…”
Watch the video here:
Last April, OJEN received a three-year year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to replicate the program province-wide. Additional funding from Crime Prevention Ottawa, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and The Law Foundation of Ontario, has allowed us to expand our Youth-Police Dialogues further, creating greater opportunities for youth to take on leadership roles in their communities.