Somalilandsun – Long before the Toronto Star labeled me the ‘broker’ as part of their story about a video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, I was helping young men in my community negotiate a future that did not involve a life of crime.
For more than a decade I’ve been a broker of sorts in a struggle for survival among young and vulnerable Canadian born Somali men who live in the Dixon community. I am proud of that accomplishment and I hope to continue serving in a similar capacity long after the Rob Ford story disappears from the headlines.
Our community, made up of Canadians born in Somalia or to Somali immigrants, has been marginalized both by politicians elected to help them and by the police assigned to protect them. The media are never in our neighbourhood when families celebrate their children’s many accomplishments. Instead, cameras and live satellite trucks are everywhere on the morning of a raid or the day after a tragedy. By then, we are too busy worrying about our safety or grieving for a lost one to offer intelligent commentary on our social condition.
The Toronto Sun profiled me ten years ago and describing the services my friends and I were providing to the community through the Dixon Youth Network, dubbed me the “Peacemaker.” Shortly after the Sun’s profile, my best friend at the time was attacked and hit over the head with an iron bar. Some misinformed thugs apparently did not like what we at the DYN were trying to do. My friend, Mohamed Omar, a budding math genius, survived the attack, but the head trauma left him with difficulties learning and remembering new information. Incidents like these are too frequent and they send a chill down the spine of anyone who wishes to help make a difference.
The police was not there to protect Omar when he was attacked and yet today as young Somali men are murdered across the GTA and Alberta, Toronto Police and the RCMP has the gall to say the reason they can’t solve these murders is because no one in the community is willing to cooperate with their investigations.
People who don’t share our experience are often quick to judge us and dismiss our young men as drug dealers and gangbangers. For the record, I’ve never been a member of a gang nor have I ever possessed or sold drugs to anyone. I have tried my best to be a role model to young people by becoming a contributing citizen of this wonderful country of ours.
I am still burdened by an incident that took place in 2011. A young man approached me asking for my help with a problem in his life. I was apparently too busy with my own affairs to help him. A few days later 24-year-old Abdikadir Khan was killed in one of the Dixon high-rise buildings. The fact that I could have helped him and didn’t has haunted me and since that day I have made it an unwritten policy never to turn my back on anyone who reaches out to me for help.
When I was approached by a young man in Dixon earlier this year to find a buyer for a video showing Mayor Ford smoking what was described to me at the time as crack cocaine, I asked to see it before agreeing to do anything. I thought it was a hoax, a skit or a prank. Unfortunately, it was none of the above.
I asked him what he hoped to gain by selling it. He told me he had two videos that would be of public interest and he thought the video with Mayor Ford had a monetary value and with it he could perhaps get a head start on a new life somewhere other than Dixon. I believed he was sincere.
The intense media coverage of what transpired in the days and week after the story broke has been the cause of much distress to me and many in my neighbourhood.
Then came the Project Traveler raids. I too was arrested and charged with gun possession and yet I have never owned a gun in my life. I plan to defend myself against these charges in court in the months to come.
In the eyes of our elders the raids were connected to reports of the crack video a month earlier. The real ‘trauma’ of the video, to invoke Bill Blair’s descriptive term, was experienced by mothers and grandmothers in Dixon on the morning of June 13 when hundreds of law enforcement officials descended on Dixon as if it was a shanty town infested with gangsters. Yet again, the Dixon neighborhood was making headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons.
Now that Mayor Ford has ‘fessed’ up to his actions and more videos are beginning to surface of behavior deemed unacceptable for an elected official, my community still has to carry around the negative label of being a ‘hood’ where gangs thrive.
I don’t hold out much hope for change. I expect our youth will continue to struggle to get jobs even when they have excellent qualifications. Unemployment in Dixon is about four times the national average. High school drop-out rates for Canadian born Somali teenagers will likely continue to hover just under 40 percent if action is not taken soon to reverse the trend. The lack of resources and facilities for our women, elderly and youth will continue to go unaddressed if politicians refuse to intervene and help alleviate the situation.
My intention for coming out and telling my story is to shed light on the hypocrisy of a system that punishes the vulnerable for minor misdemeanors while the rich and powerful are protected by the same laws for crimes that are much more egregious. Has the time not come for our elected officials to take action that would lift my community out of a state of distress and give our youth a chance to prosper?