A woman whose brother was one of the first victims of the current gang war in Abbotsford is using his death to fuel her passion to keep other kids from meeting the same fate.
Jessica Sherman is the director of operations for the Abbotsford chapter of KidsPlay Foundation, an organization aimed at keeping kids out of gangs and away from drugs and violence.
Among the agency’s offerings is a mentorship program currently available at five Lower Mainland schools, including Dasmesh Punjabi School in Abbotsford. (There are also two in Langley and two in Surrey.)
Sherman became passionate about changing young lives after her family experienced a tragedy in 2014.
Her brother Harwin Baringh, 18, was gunned down on Sparrow Drive in west Abbotsford on the evening of Oct. 2, 2014. He was found slumped over in the driver’s seat of an SUV.
Two vehicles were reported speeding away from the area, but nobody has ever been charged with Baringh’s death.
Court documents released in January 2015 identified the two cars alleged to have had ties to the shooting and stated that both vehicles had connections to a “violent ongoing gang conflict.”
To this day, Sherman and her family don’t know precisely what Baringh’s gang involvement might have been, but they don’t believe the gunfire was intended for him.
Sherman said Baringh, who had graduated from W. J. Mouat Secondary just a few months before his death, came from a close-knit family with parents who had strong values and focused on education.
“My brother was a lion. He was just the most golden-hearted, loyal, hard-working human you could ever meet,” Sherman said.
Baringh had been set to move to Calgary – where Sherman was living at the time – in January 2015 to study accounting.
She said it came out after his death that Baringh had begun associating with new friends in the summer after he graduated.
“He found a sense of belonging – a sense of camaraderie – around the wrong people,” she said.
Sherman said the tragedy alerted her to how anyone’s family can be impacted by gangs and drugs, even if they have solid values. She also understands that some circumstances can make kids more vulnerable to being lured by the gang lifestyle.
Sherman said she joined KidsPlay Foundation last August because she wants to do something powerful in her brother’s memory, in addition to the two scholarships her family already supports in her brother’s name.
“I’m my brother’s keeper, and I’m going to keep working towards building his legacy,” she said.
KidsPlay was founded in 2015 by Det. Kal Dosanjh, a 20-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). He spent 14 years as a patrol officer, nine of which were in the Downtown Eastside, and he was impacted by what he saw.
“What bothered me the most was that we saw a steady proliferation of youth entering the open-air drug market and into that criminal gang-and-drug lifestyle,” he said.
Dosanjh said he was dismayed by the process of these kids being charged, convicted and sent to youth detention centres, only to be released as more hardened criminals.
He wanted to do something to reach kids before they got to that age, and he secured funding from the VPD to offer a one-day soccer tournament – with no charge to the participants.
Within eight years, the tournament grew from a small park in the Downtown Eastside to renting BC Place for more than 2,000 kids.
Kids Play has since evolved to include education, sports and mentorship programs that, Dosanjh emphasizes, are entirely free to families. (The programs are funded entirely by donations and fundraising, and there are no paid staff.)
He said the idea is to instill strong values and principles in kids when they are young, so that they are not easily lured to the gang lifestyle.
Dosanjh said those who are drawn to the lifestyle come from all walks of life.
“They’re attracted to the glorified, romanticized Scarface version of the drug and gang world, and they really, truly believe that it’s a brotherhood,” he said.
“They love the cars. They love the girls. They love the clubs, the trips – everything else that comes with it … But it’s just materialistic things and that misplaced sense of power they get from engaging in violent activity.”
Dosanjh said kids who participate in Kids Play programs gain a sense of teamwork, leadership, dedication and commitment from positive activities such as sports.
The foundation also offers free public forums, including one set for Abbotsford on Saturday, April 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, 32315 South Fraser Way.
The drug and gang forum includes a presentation by hip-hop artist Saint Soldier, and every youth who attends will be eligible to receive a scholarship of $150 to $200, with a total of $2,000 being presented.
For more information, visit kidsplayfoundation.com, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 306-999-3904.