Growing up with seven other family members in a trailer outside of Prince George, B.C., the last job Cst. Troy Derrick ever pictured himself doing was that of a cop. His dreams back then focused more on a slab of wood with four wheels.
As a young First Nations man, Derrick had several negative encounters with the police in his community that left an impression on him. But when he became an avid skateboarder at the age of 12, he says he found a sense of liberation in the activity and its community.
"I began to embrace skateboarding culture because it accepted me with no questions," says Derrick. "The only thing that mattered to others was that I liked to skateboard."
Seeking out success
When Derrick was getting into skateboarding in the 1980s, it had a bad reputation. Although he was never involved in fights, drugs, alcohol or any illegal activity, Derrick and his friends were taunted by their peers and pigeonholed by authority figures.
When a serious knee injury prevented him from pursuing skateboarding further, his sister recommended he try something new. Derrick moved south to Vancouver and enrolled in a culinary arts program. In just a few short years, he got his red seal certification and moved to the Gulf Islands, where he worked as a chef.
When he returned to Vancouver a few years later, Derrick found himself working as an assistant in the culinary arts program at the University of British Columbia and then later in Surrey, where he taught young First Nations students.
"I would always tell my students, you have options in this country, you can be successful at anything so long as you put the time and effort in," says Derrick. "Of course, one of my students eventually says, 'What about you, Chef Troy? Are you doing everything you can do?' "
Taken aback by the question, Derrick asked the student what he thought was the hardest thing a First Nations person could do. "And word for word, he said, 'Why don't you become a cop? We all hate them anyways.' "
Connected to his roots
That conversation struck a chord with Derrick. Within three weeks, he was at a recruiting session in New Westminster, B.C. And just a few weeks later, he was training hard and preparing to become a cadet.
It was at Depot that he really got in touch with the history of his ancestors. With a better understanding of many issues within the First Nations community, coupled with his own personal experiences, he was posted to Surrey, where he serves as the detachment's First Nations policing member for the Semiahmoo First Nation.
"What struck me about Troy was that he was very committed to his role," says S/Sgt. Lesli Roseberry, the former district commander for South Surrey. "And he's never completely given up what he did before, you can tell the skateboarding and even the chef work both still influence him."
Finding his place
After facing prejudices and racism growing up, Derrick understands what it's like to be an outsider. And he's channeled that into his work. Motivated by providing both his service as well as his compassion to the community, he says something just clicked when he became a police officer.
"Far too often, we go into these communities telling people what they should be doing to make their lives better, but not asking them what they think will help them out," says Derrick. "I feel like I understand what my place is now."
Derrick says he owes that awareness to his early experiences through skateboarding. Kevin Harris, Canada's first professional skateboarder and Derrick's childhood hero, adds it's an activity that teaches perseverance and optimism.
"Once skateboarding is in your blood, you'll do anything to overcome the obstacles preventing you from skating," says Harris. "Skateboarding has taught me that if a brick wall comes up in life that you can always find a way around it."
And although Derrick never imagined himself as a police officer, he plans to make the most of it.
"You only get one crack at this job, so you have to make the most of it while you still can," says Derrick. "Whatever I'm doing, I don't want to just make a difference in the community; I want to be that difference."
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 1, 2014).