Jahanzeb Zazai has come up with a simple solution to the gun violence plaguing his community – a coat of colourful paint to brighten Jamestown up and drive the bad guys out.
“The neighbourhood is dull. I want to see it become colourful – vivid colours like yellow, green, blue, purple. Outside it’s dark, it’s dirty, you don’t want to live here – why not make it colourful?” asked the 15-year-old Westhumber Collegiate Institute student. “Once the bad guys see it’s colourful and that there’s kids here, they won’t want to live here anymore. ‘Cause they want to hide in the dark, they don’t want to live in the colour.”
Jahanzeb was just one of about 50 Jamestown residents and representatives from local social service agencies to attend a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) hosted community safety meeting at Greenholme Junior Middle School Wednesday night, in response to the nearby shooting death of 15-year-old Jarvis Montaque last month.
Jarvis was gunned down at close range in what police believe was a targeted shooting on a paved walkway just outside his Jamestown home on the night of Sunday, Feb. 17. No arrests have been made in his murder – the third in a month-long string of shootings at TCH complexes that claimed three young lives.
“My neighbours are dying,” said Jahanzeb, who was sitting in his living room that night, just a few doors down from Jarvis’ house, when he was startled by the screams of a crying woman just outside his window. “What about my father? He goes to work late – how do I know he won’t be harmed next?
“I came here tonight because I want to help the community. I live in the community and I want to see it grow.”
And he isn’t the only one.
Among those in attendance at the meeting, hosted by TCH’s Weston Rexdale Unit Manager Abdul Warsame, were Etobicoke North Councillor Vincent Crisanti, Lisa Kostakis from Albion Neighbourhood Services, Breaking the Cycle’s Gary Newman, as well as representatives from 23 Division, Toronto Public Health and the city’s Crisis Response Team.
The purpose of the meeting, Warsame said, was to discuss and brainstorm ideas for ways to support the local TCH community at a time when 30 to 50 per cent of the crime in the area is happening in their backyards.
“I hope that will diminish if we get together and come up with a plan,” he said. “We as an agency, or as civil servants, cannot provide a guarantee of a crimeless environment, but we do have the talent and the resources to actually implement some changes.”
To those ends, Crisanti proposed a three-pronged focus: programs to assist families as a whole deal with crisis situations; better systems for reaching out to the truly vulnerable; and ensuring that the city becomes a better landlord, enforcing zero tolerance rules when it comes to criminal activity.
For Newman, who works with high-risk, gang-involved young people through his work at Breaking the Cycle, the main goal is getting those youth to dream again. But with every young life claimed as a victim of gun violence, his job just gets that much more difficult – it’s hard to have dreams when you’re living a nightmare.
“Every single time another young person is gone, to them it’s like they lost 10 more. And it piles up, and it piles up and it piles up,” he said. “As we sit down here and try to come up with solutions, they’re not sleeping. They’re not eating. And they can’t think of anything else, except for the fact that they might be next.”
In order to reach those kids, Newman said they community needs to start asking how they can create a culture that’s inclusive and enriching to young people – ‘some kind of engagement where young people feel like ‘I have a reason to take care of my brother, I have a reason to take care of my sister, and I have a reason to wake up in the morning and walk to school with a smile on my face.’”
Jahanzeb and supporters of his colourful campaign believe the answer to that question may lie in a can of paint.
“I think we’re all in agreement this is a wonderful vision – let’s get that colour out there,” Kostakis said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, calling for a follow-up gathering of interested parties to discuss next steps – such as the formation of partnerships with youth painters and mural artists, TCH, Toronto police, local schools, and social service agencies, as well as securing sponsorships from local BIAs, hardware stores, and banks to help fund the project.
“I think there’s a lot of possibility here. It’s exciting.”