Early Sunday morning, about a dozen people — mostly police officers — huddled at Cape Spear to support youth mental health.
The temperature was -2 C, but the strong wind was what had everyone gathered behind the washroom facility structure, which served as a wind-break.
Several comments of, “We should have put bricks in our pockets,” carried in the gusts across the parking lot where Indigenous police officer Kevin Redsky prepared a small backpack for a big journey.
Redsky began his cross-Canada walk to support youth mental health at 9 a.m., leaving Cape Spear and ending for the day 40 kilometres later on the Trans-Canada Highway.
“Throughout the walk, we’re going to be consistent with our message — it’s to listen. The youth have been screaming for years, talking about their struggles and what they really need. I don’t know why we’re not listening to them,” Redsky said, peering out from under a stocking hat and two hoods.
The Hope in the Darkness national walk for youth mental health will raise funds to support culture-based youth mental health services across the country.
The walk also aims to raise awareness of youth mental health, to provide a platform for Indigenous youth mental health stories to be shared and to rally police officers across the country to get involved in empowering young people.
St. John's Native Friendship Centre Inuk elder Emma Reelis gave a blessing for Redsky at the start of his walk.
“The creator would like the next generation of youth to live in peace,” she said.
Redsky travelled to St. John’s from his hometown of Shoal Lake #40 First Nation in northern Ontario, where he has been a police officer for 15 years.
Redsky rubbed his mittens-clad hands together as he spoke passionately about why he founded the Hope in the Darkness initiative, and why it’s so desperately needed.
“I’ve personally witnessed the struggles in my own life — friends, family — and then becoming a police officer I’ve witnessed it even more because in the northern communities, there are struggles up there, there are issues,” he said.
“In 2013, we unfortunately lost my niece. After we lost her, it took a couple of years for me to deal with it. One evening we went to an event in Peterborough, Ontario, that was dedicated to youth mental health, and it just clicked right there — I’ve got to do something.
“A few months later, I was out for a walk. I was thinking about my niece and again it just clicked right there, that’s what I have to be doing, walking to create the awareness.”
Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland and Labrador CEO Dan Goodyear was at Cape Spear to see Redsky off on his journey.
Goodyear said Redsky’s initiative is important to create more awareness about youth mental health.
“Seventy-five per cent of mental illnesses can be traced to youth and young adults, so it’s important that we continue to build the awareness and education.”
Goodyear said that although the stigma around mental health is reducing more and more, it’s vital to keep talking.
“We still need to make sure that the conversations are open, and that we elevate mental health to the level that physical health is. They need to be equal. We need to look after our mental health just the same as we do our physical health,” Goodyear said.
Local police officers from both the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were at Cape Spear to show their support.
“We work so hand-in-hand with youth,” RNC inspector Terry Corbin said. “It’s a big challenge for us is to try to work with youth to try to get them over some of these hurdles. … So it’s a super initiative and we’re just pleased to be involved with it.”
As Redsky began his walk Sunday morning, he encouraged people in the communities he will travel through over the next few months to show their support by walking with him.
A crowd-funded effort, donations can be made to Hope in the Darkness through the GoFundMe link on the website www.hopeinthedarkness.ca.