Toronto Police Trailblazer Award is named after Grenadian Terry James

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Terry James (2nd from left) at the flag-raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall

By Lincoln DePradine

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has established an annual award in the name of Grenada-born Terry James, who served as a law enforcement officer for 30 years before retiring as a sergeant in 2010.

The first TPS “Terry James Trailblazer Award’’ was presented in early February to author and community activist Rosemary Sadlier, former president of the Ontario Black History Society.

“I would like to thank you all for your very kind acknowledgement of the work that I did in helping to create February as Black History Month, while an unpaid volunteer president of the Ontario Back History Society,’’ Sadlier said in accepting the award at a TPS Black History Month event.

“I had grown up, the only person who looked like me in my neighbourhood. That sense of never seeing yourself reflected back or, if reflected back, never in a positive way, was a very strong part of my need, perhaps, to get involved in all things Black History.’’

James migrated to Canada at 13 years and joined TPS in June 1980, becoming the first Black female officer on the police beat. She was promoted to sergeant in 2001.

“We have come a long way since Terry joined our ranks, in part because of Terry – and others like her – who challenged, and continue to challenge, the status quo; who pushed us to do better and be better,” said Police Chief Myron Demkiw.

James, during her time at TPS, took a leadership role in the police launching its own Black History Month celebrations three decades ago. She also mentored young people, some of whom enlisted as TPS officers.

“Representation breeds possibilities into young minds, into mature minds, into everyone,’’ Crystal Devlin said at the award presentation ceremony.

“When we see people in places where we’ve never seen them before, something changes and the world gets a little bit bigger and a little bit brighter. And, I am proud to have gotten a firsthand look at this beautiful example of a bigger and brighter world. Terry James did that for me and she’s done this for countless others,’’ added Devlin, who is James’ daughter.

Her mother did not attend the ceremony at police headquarters in Toronto. She was away on a cruise on a long-planned vacation.

James’s first job, out of school, was as a salesperson for a Toronto manufacturing company.

In an interview, she said she left sales to do something that would test her mettle as a woman.

“I have always said that I wanted to do something that was non-traditional as a woman. That’s when I made the decision that I wanted something a little more challenging and I joined the Police Service,’’ James said in my interview with her.

James admitted that working as a TPS officer was “very challenging’’. However, she said, “I always face a challenge head-on’’, adding that she enjoyed her policing job.

“I did the very best I could; I contributed in the best ways I could. I was happy when I left and I just wanted to enjoy life afterwards,’’ said James.

She reflected on the many youth she mentored. “I called them my babies when I got to know them and first started mentoring them,’’ James said.

Among her mentees is Kelly Skinner. Just 17 at the time, and still in high school, James guided and mentored Skinner, who now is a superintendent at TPS.

“I’m very proud of her accomplishments today. And there is a number of others like that,’’ said James. “I’m really happy, pleased and proud of some of the young people whose lives I’ve touched.’’

The intention behind her efforts, professional and volunteer, was not “to look for accolades or anything like that’’, said James.

“All the way through the 30 years that I had been doing this, I never really thought that what I was doing as anything special. I just did it. It’s who I am. I like to see people do well,’’ James said.

“I was always an advocate for young people, helping them along and just seeing them do well, and taking all the advantages that they possibly could to be successful in life.’’

James, on February 7, hoisted the Grenada flag above Toronto City Hall as part of the commemorative activities marking the 50th anniversary of independence of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.