By Lincoln DePradine
A young Terry James could simply have remained a salesperson for a Toronto manufacturing company. But that job, she told The Caribbean Camera, wasn’t challenging enough. She wanted 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,’’ said James.
She spent 30 years as a Toronto Police Service (TPS) officer, retiring as a sergeant in 2010.
Last week, as part of Black History Month (BHM) observance at TPS, the Police Service presented its first-ever “Terry James Trailblazer Award’’.
The recipient was author and community activist Rosemary Sadlier, former president of the Ontario Black History Society.
Sadlier “has dedicated her life’s work to elevating and celebrating Black History in Canada,” said TPS board member Nadine Spencer. “Indeed, her incredible work was central to the Canadian government’s 1995 decision to make the celebration of Black History Month a national annual event.”
She was “honoured’’, Sadlier said, to be the winner of the inaugural “Terry James Trailblazer Award’’.
Grenada-born 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 policing career, mentored young people, some of whom enlisted as TPS officers.
James, who said “it feels really good’’ to have an award named in her honour, did not attend the ceremony at police headquarters. She was away on a cruise on a long-planned vacation, and was represented at the event by her daughter.
The retired cop is credited with initiating the BHM idea and in playing the lead role in the observing of Black History Month at the Police Service.
According to TPS, the annual “Terry James Trailblazer Award’’ has been established to recognize her “advocacy in making the Service more inclusive’’.
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.
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.’’