Windsor police program unpacks racism, fosters ally-ship in local schools

·4 min read
Unite program at Corpus Christi  (Corpus Christi/Twitter - image credit)
Unite program at Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi/Twitter - image credit)

Following a presentation from Windsor police on "becoming an ally in the fight against racism," Grade 7 student Karolena Alarab said she better understood what was happening in the world and the need to treat everyone equally.

Alarab and her classmates at Corpus Christi Catholic Middle School took part in the Unite program — a new initiative launched by Windsor police that explores racism and inclusivity with students, parents and staff.

The Unite program began after Corpus Christi principal Dean Favero saw a public post from Windsor officer Arjei Franklin about George Floyd's death. Favero asked Windsor police about coming in to talk to the school's youth about racism and ally-ship.

After the presentation, students were asked to draw a picture or write a paragraph of what racism means to them.

Alarab told CBC News that she drew a person of colour with white hands around their mouth, like a mask.

"I wanted to explain that white people ... we're shutting these other people out because of their colour and we're not letting them have a chance and speak their mind," she said.

Community service officer Jamie Adjetey Nelson is part of the program and he said officers share stories that explore how they define racism, deal with it and the allies they've had in their life who have contributed to their "successes."

Jamie Ajetey Nelson, community service officer with Windsor police
Jamie Ajetey Nelson, community service officer with Windsor police(Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

One of the stories Adjetey Nelson says he shares is about a high school teacher who gave him the push he needed at the right moment in his life.

"He understood that it wasn't always about equality, it was about equity and there was a time in my life when I needed to be exposed to success and there were other students who were also in my position but he saw as a young Black male I needed just a little bit more attention," he said.

"We talk to these students and we say it's important to have your voice being heard. We're listening as police officers ..." - WPS community services officer Jamie Adjetey Nelson

The teacher brought him to the Ontario track and field championships and Adjetey Nelson said that experience led him to become a professional track and field athlete.

At the end of the presentation, Adjetey Nelson says they open the floor up to students and the other attendees to share comments, experiences or ask questions.

"We talk to these students and we say it's important to have your voice being heard. We're listening as police officers and for me it's what can we do to assist in that. It's all about being an ally ... giving them a safe place to voice their opinions," he said, adding that they haven't "shied away" from having hard conversations related to George Floyd or other Black people who have died.

For Adjetey Nelson, the ability to participate in the program and educate youth is part of the reason why he entered policing.

He told CBC News that he became an officer because he could "have an impact."

"I could also be a visible minority and I could relate in a different way. Diversity is very important in policing and I believe that," he said.

What stood out from the presentation for Grade 7 Corpus Christi teacher Nicholas Kennette were themes of inclusion and acceptance of others. He also said it was good to see the officers be so vulnerable and relatable.

"It was nice that they could put together a presentation to unite both how they felt with their personal stories and how that related to inequality and acceptance," Kennette said.

"They did do a really good job of the teaching aspect to try to encourage all the students that it doesn't matter your age, your race, but that it's important to be accepting of others."

He said he hopes what the students learned about standing up for others sticks with them.

Since the program launched about a month and a half ago, Adjetey Nelson said they've talked to more than 100 students, staff and parents in the community.

At this time, he said they're looking to improve the program, partner with local organizations and roll it out to more youth.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.