At Dixon and Kipling Avenue, gun violence is a problem. Farhia Warsame wants that narrative to be changed and according to her, it starts with city officials.
One phone call at 2 a.m. changed Farhia Warsame’s life. It was the phone call that no parent ever wants to receive. Warsame recalls that day as “emotional” because the phone call was about the shooting death of her son.
“Losing my son was very hard. I couldn’t sleep for a week and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was a very hard day,” said Warsame.
Warsame, the executive director of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network, began activism for her community, Dixon Road and Kipling Avenue, two years earlier.
Warsame began activism in 2013; Dixon did not have as many problems back then as it does now. “I started a small group of mostly Somali women in Dixon where we could voice our concerns as parents to help our kids become future leaders,” said Warsame. Most parents in Dixon were born in Somalia, a war-torn developing country. When violent shootings happen, Warsame can’t help but think about her country and the death of her son. “Somalia was not a safe place to raise your kids. That is why I moved my family from Mogadishu to Canada, for an improved life. Most Somali parents left Somalia for an improved life, not more violence for their families.”
With two recent shootings in Dixon this fall, Warsame is broadening her campaign in order to get the attention of officials who can provide more resources for the area.
A 29-year-old man was gunned down on Oct. 8 at Dixon Road and Islington Avenue; and three days later, a 16-year-old boy was killed in a triple shooting at Kingsview Village Junior School.. The community was in mourning so Warsame knew that she had to call on city officials for more resources.
“We have no support from the city, from our government. They only help when a crisis happens, and that needs to stop.”
Warsame also said that with no resources from the government, the youth are lost and become part of a violent lifestyle as a result.
Many people refer to Warsame’s community as just “Dixon,” however the community is very orientated; it consists of mostly East Africans from Somalia and South Asians from Pakistan. Although there are hundreds of people who live there, Warsame said, “Dixon is one big family. Everyone knows what goes on and tells each other everything. If something happens to one person, it affects us all, good or bad.”
After the loss of 16-year-old Ali, the community was emotional. “These kids are like my own now and I want to see change happen.” Dixon is an “underserved and marginalized community.” Warsame believes Dixon is marginalized because when a shooting occurs, the media talks about the deceased’s lifestyle and background as a factor and not about the sacrifices their parents made to bring them to a better country. Warsame works at Kingsview Junior Village School, where she offers tutoring and mentoring programs five days a week. “The only program we have at this moment is this one, where all youth can come. We need more space in schools where kids can play sports, be tutored, have discussions with one another to combat violence in the streets.”
Ward 2 Councillor Michael Ford attended a meeting last month with residents of Dixon to listen to their concerns and to help stop the gun violence in the community. “There have been several meetings that have taken place in recent weeks with many stakeholders including the provincial government, our city divisions, Toronto Police, the Toronto District School Board, as well as resident groups. There are some very good takeaways that will hopefully benefit short term, but we know there is work to do long term as well,” said Councillor Ford. Mayor John Tory echoed the same remarks, stating that he has been in close contact with the police chief about decreasing the gun violence in the city and helping marginalized communities like Dixon get the resources and programs they need to support youth.
One resident of Dixon that did not want to be named for publication reasons, said at the meeting that, “we need support from the government. We need support from the police. We don’t need labelling, we are tired of labelling. We just need justice.” Justice in her eyes is creating a safe place for kids to interact with each other, whether it’s playing sports, or going on trips offered in schools so that they are being occupied in a positive matter.
Warsame said help shouldn’t just come in times of need, like it has been for many years. “I’m glad we are being heard as a community. We aren’t going to be silent about anything. It’s time to come together to prevent any more tragedies.” Warsame is waiting to hear from city officials on the exact funding and programs that will be implemented to Dixon.