The Jane Finch community, situated in the northwest part of Toronto, is a community that has been plagued by gun violence. Much of this is due to larger systemic issues related to racialized poverty. Last year there were 65 gun discharges in Jane and Finch.
I work as the Community Minister at the Jane Finch Community Ministry which is situated in one of the social housing communities in Jane and Finch known as Firgrove. The role of the ministry is to stand in solidarity with the community providing community development, pastoral care and advocacy through coalitions and networks.
In 2014 a community mural was commissioned in memory of some of the youth from Firgrove who lost their lives to violence. 12 youth from this community of 380 households, in a period of 15 years, lost their lives to violence.
To create hope and a better future the community ministry with other partners has been engaged in providing: scholarships, backpacks with school supplies, employment training for youth and micro loans for entrepreneurs.
Over the last several years I have been working quite closely with a woman in the community named Andrea Tabnor who works tirelessly to end gun violence. She had been engaged in a life of crime but after attending so many funerals and seeing close friends go to prison she decided to make a difference. Each year she hosts a Unity BBQ where she brings feuding gang members together to promote unity and end gun violence.
This summer, in the midst of organizing the 8th Annual Jane Finch Unity BBQ, some youth approached Andrea because they were concerned about a couple of men they didn’t recognize parked in a black car outside of Firgrove. Andrea and I accompanied the youth to investigate.
I was following them when all of a sudden the youth bolted and started running back towards me. I froze, and Andrea stopped, as they ran between us. Then I saw coming around the corner chasing them—two men with guns. Andrea screamed, and when the men saw the two of us standing there, they ran off in another direction. I’m certain if we were not there the youth would have been shot.
As a community minister it brings a whole other meaning to the phrase “Saving lives for Jesus.”
—Barry Rieder, Jane Finch Community Minister
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