Drivers of change | He reaches out to young gangsters

They make the news. They are agents of change in their field. But we know little or nothing about them. The press presents it to you all summer long.

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Caroline Touzin

Caroline Touzin
The press

“Pierreson, you do a lot for children and teenagers. What are you doing for us? »

We. It is the young adults responsible for the crisis of urban violence that has been shaking northeastern Montreal for two years now.

Pierreson Vaval could have received this criticism from a young mobster like a blowtorch.

After all, the director of the RDP team has been working for 25 years to prevent crime, violence, school dropout and drug addiction among vulnerable young people in Rivière-des-Prairies (RDP) and to combat these problems.

The 50-year-old community organizer saw it more as a cry for help. He’s known them since they were little. He watched them grow and… fall. However, he has approached them several times.

Today he feels he cannot disappoint them.

They are young blacks who have grown up in insecurity. They dropped out of school early. They committed crimes that led them to a youth center and then to prison. They feel excluded from the society in which they live.

Some have become fathers. They turn to what they know — fraud, drug trafficking and other crimes — to support their families, Vaval says.

These kids are in survival mode. They need help, support. I know it’s hard to hear because they’re shooting at each other, but as a society we need to get closer to them rather than shut them out or else the ghettos we’re so afraid of will appear.

Pierreson Vaval

The first time the representative of The press mr. Vaval, it was in 2005, when Montreal experienced an increase in armed violence related to conflict between street gangs. A 60-year-old had just been the victim of a needless attack by three young mobsters.

“Such a drama will repeat itself as long as the minorities where our youth come from struggle with socio-economic and integration problems. Until young people themselves have strong, non-violent and positive role models around them,” the community organizer said at the time.

Seventeen years have passed. Young people growing up in disadvantaged areas continue to kill each other. Their conflicts always claim innocent victims.

Pierreson Vaval’s analysis of the ‘systemic’ origins of outbursts of violence remains the same. The big man with the infectious smile gives us an appointment for the interview in Don-Bosco Park. His organization financed a collective of artists last year to paint a mural there Black lives matter/ The lives of black youth are important.


PHOTOGRAPH ROBERT SKINNER, THE PRESS

Pierreson Vaval at the fresco Black lives matter

“Do you find anything? he asks, pointing to the sports facilities. The skateboard park has been destroyed. There is graffiti everywhere, but not on the fresco. »

She [la fresque Black Lives Matter] is important for our young people. They are told that their lives matter.

Pierreson Vaval

“Anything else?”, he adds. Half a dozen young men play basketball under a blazing sun on this July day. They are all white.

With the increase in gun incidents, young black people are afraid to play in the park for fear of being targeted by street gang members who want to “make points” (known as the to score) or is mistaken for a gang member.

Another collateral damage of the current crisis: Mr Vaval feels an increase in tensions between young black people and the police. Young people with no history, and even street workers from the organization, are arrested by police officers, ostensibly because they look like suspects.

Discouraged, the director of Équipe RDP? No, that’s not the type of this former top basketball athlete. Born in Haiti, arrived in Montreal at the age of 2, he grew up on the Plateau. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it wasn’t easy to ‘find your place’ in a white working-class neighborhood, he says.

But on a basketball court, when he played for Jeanne-Mance High School and then on an elite program where he represented Montreal, he was applauded. His “young black identity” is valued, admired. “People had a favorable bias because they saw black people excel at basketball on TV,” he recalls.

Beyond basketball

At the age of 20, he moved with his family to Rivière-des-Prairies. In their housing cooperative, young people have made a basketball hoop from a milk crate with holes in it. They play in the parking lot because they don’t have access to a nearby basketball court.

Pierreson Vaval no longer plays at a competitive level. He studied technical drawing. He works for a publishing house.

The teens in his co-op beg him to play with them. He meets other youths from neighboring HLMs who have also improvised in parking lots.

The needs of these young people and their families are enormous, Mr Vaval discovers. It goes way beyond sports.

I felt the call of community involvement.

Pierreson Vaval

Teens call him “Coach”. RDP was then rocked by a crisis of violence similar to the one currently experienced. “The social cohesion essential for the development of the neighborhood seemed to be under threat,” he recalls. Everywhere I went, people asked me: what’s going on with young people? »

But no organization is ready to welcome these vulnerable teenagers, who are seen as dangerous. It was there that, with the support of Jean-Grou High School and the City of Montreal, he founded Équipe RDP at the age of 25. Basketball programs, and later football, were created to combat school dropout and violence.

A matter of intervening as quickly as possible, the activities of the organization then extend to the neighboring primary schools.

Today, Équipe RDP also manages recreation programs, including day camps, for the entire municipality. The organization has nine permanent employees and about sixty seasonal workers. It serves about 10,000 people.

“There is now diversity among the animators. Children have positive role models that resemble them,” he says proudly.

Build instead of destroy

But how can we help marginalized young adults – actors in the current crisis – to get out of it?

Employment, replies Mr Vaval. One of his street workers, Mac Clain Senat, himself a carpenter-joiner, came up with the idea of ​​a training program for construction workers in the field. The FTQ-Construction and Local 9 (carpenters-joiners) embarked on the adventure.

For example, last year 177 young people benefited from the training program and 70 more are waiting to participate.

Candidates have been injured or killed in the current crisis, Mr Vaval laments. But for others it changed their lives.

Équipe RDP also opened a new location this year for young adults – aged 16-35 – who want to confide in or get out of gangs. In recent months, it was no longer safe for his street workers to meet them at home, in parks or in their cars.

The community organizer was recognized by the Montreal Canadiens as part of Black History Month earlier this year. His contribution to the creation of the Pozé coalition was highlighted: this group that defends the interests of young Afro-Quebecers has been carrying out more media interventions for a year to remind of the importance of acting against the root causes of the outbreak of violence , and not just on the symptoms.

While Quebec has invested 90 million in the fight against firearms in Operation Centaur, the Pozé Coalition is asking for an equivalent amount to be invested in prevention. The government reacted timidly, regretted Mr Vaval. Since the start of the crisis, Team RDP has received $160,000 in new money; a grossly insufficient amount, he said. With this money, the organization manages to hire two “and a half” additional workers.

“Let’s be serious,” he drops, we’re dealing with “heavy cases” engaged in a “fraternal war.” It’s an army of social workers, psychologists and community workers that the northeast of the metropolis needs, he says.

“If the police ask; she receives. The response is immediate. We, in the community, as we know the solutions, we are told to fill out forms, we are overwhelmed with bureaucracy, Mr Vaval laments. Is it urgent or not? »

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