“It was the last place I wanted to be that evening – my first class in the Calgary Police Cadet Corps. My parents had signed me up, made me go, and I was left without a choice in their decision,” says a charming and very polite Naqvi.
Naqvi was supposed to go to the movies with his friends that Thursday night in 2013, but fearing he was entering an up-to-no-good life at the tender age of 13, his parents, unbeknownst to Naqvi, registered him in the Calgary Police Cadet Corps.
“I was so angry with them! I wasn’t interested in policing, I didn’t want to be there, I had to wear a uniform, stand at attention, and listen to some teenager scream at me all night.”
The first three months were absolutely horrible.
“I was scolded by an Officer, and by a fellow Cadet. When I told off the Cadet, the entire class had to do push-ups on account of me. I learned a hard lesson that the team is only as strong as its weakest link, and that one person can ruin it for everyone.”
“It was right about then that my first revelation happened. A recruit who I had started to earn some respect for came to me and said ‘I don’t mean to offend you but you are the worst cadet in our district.’ That really hurt.”
After that, Naqvi started changing his attitude, his behavior, even his body language. As time marched on, he engaged more, and gained an understanding and appreciation of camaraderie.
“We were dependent upon each other. I started paying closer attention to drill, I saw that my fellow Cadets respected me more, I was getting promotions, and I was being formally recognized for my achievements. I can attribute it all to that one comment. I decided I didn’t want to be “that guy” anymore.”
Soon Naqvi was working effectively in a team, learning new skills, and partaking in adventures he had never been exposed to. He was developing as a person, as a leader, and as someone new to his family. He showed trust, and in return, he gained trust.
“Leaders did things like teach me how to build a tent. Then I had to instruct my colleagues on how to do it – only they were blindfolded. I had to be so explicit in my communication to them. We had to find dry wood in the rain to build a fire and stay warm. There was a test where every Cadet received one piece of chocolate, and one Cadet received an extra piece. That Cadet was myself. I was being tested for my truthfulness. I took ownership and told the rest of the Cadets I had received two pieces – they respected me for my honesty.”
Naqvi’s biggest physical leap of faith was the high ropes course during a winter camp.
“We were told to raise our hands if we did not want to participate. I was terrified to do the ropes, but more terrified of raising my hand. So I climbed up, paralyzed with fear, and put myself through tremendous mental gymnastics to believe I would not fall. I didn’t. That inspired me to move out of my comfort zone.”
“My family did not originally respect me because I was a trouble maker. I knew that. So I had not known what it was like to be respected. But because I was being a much better Cadet, I was gaining my comrades and Officers’ respect. The more respect they showed me, the more I showed my family – I became addicted to being respected. And then – my family started showing me respect. I had come full circle.”
It became so clear to Naqvi that good behavior is rewarded, reward includes promotions, and promotions include opportunity for his future. Promotions start in year two of Cadets, but Naqvi felt he was not worthy.
“I talked to a Constable and said ‘I get it! I want to be a better person. I want to be promoted. I want to be a leader.’ Much to my surprise, the Constable told me to go for it. I was only 14 years old and feeling under a lot of stress, only this time it was a healthier stress.”
There were 24 Cadets vying for eight positions. Naqvi began the process of merit, showing a dramatically increased level of interest in the program, turned his behavior to be positive, contributed significant volunteer hours, and interacted more with fellow Cadets and Officers. All of this contributes to a point system, but the 24 competing individuals were not given any indication as to their ranking.
“There is no feedback – while you can ask an Officer how you are doing, there is no advice. We have to figure it out for ourselves and we only find out at the end of the year the Cadets who will be promoted. We were all sitting there together, our families watching on.”
Naqvi was the sixth person named of the possible eight to receive a promotion.
“While I was shocked, I felt so good. Everyone stood and clapped for me. It was worth all I had been through in recognizing that I wanted to turn my life around.”
In Naqvi’s third year of Cadet’s he was promoted to Sergeant which brings more responsibility.
“Now I was the person making notes on the younger Cadets, checking uniforms, and mentoring the new recruits. I liked the responsibility. It gave me more to participate in while silently learning the attributes of a good leader.”
It was this position that forced Naqvi to develop his public speaking skills. While he was physically afraid of the high ropes, he was mentally afraid of speaking in public. But he knew it was a skill he could learn and benefit from for life. He was not good at it, but Naqvi was fascinated because it taught him perseverance.
During his third year Naqvi’s Mom developed severe and debilitating arthritis.
“I had to be there for her – I love her. I fell a bit behind in school, but I continued to work hard and kept up my jobs with Cadets.”
The perseverance paid off. In Naqvi’s fourth year he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
“Now I was that person I held no respect for when my parents initially dropped me off at my first Cadet class four years ago. I was in charge of the new recruits and now I was the teenager raising my voice. There was tension, I had to communicate explicitly, and the success of the group was riding on me as their leader.”
That year was extra difficult as there were new Program Coordinators, and there was often disagreement between Naqvi and the new Constable. Naqvi made a mistake in judgement and had disrespected the new Constable despite that not being his intentions, thus costing the relationship between them.
“I learned then that words are like loaded guns, and never forgotten. But like everything else I had been through, we knew this had to be resolved on our own – and thankfully we did.”
Naqvi enjoyed many things during his fourth and fifth years in Cadets. Especially when he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). Not only was he teaching Cadets, he was now also teaching leadership.
“High ranking Cadet Officers were coming to me with challenges they needed resolutions to. I was teaching drill. The same drill I had despised.”
“RSMs are notorious for being head-strong and stubborn. While I did not want to destroy the legacy, I also had a personal goal to change the reputation. I started communicating more with the recruits because I didn’t like the power attitude. While RSMs work hard to earn our rank, it is also incumbent to earn mutual respect. With respect comes power. I wanted to turn it around so Cadets understood that they were a person and a Cadet first, and their rank came second. Rank is not a trump card – if it is played that way, respect goes out the window.”
Instead of being on the receiving end of a yelling RSM like Naqvi had experienced, he complimented Cadets on their uniform, asked how their day was going, and if he suggested their shirt was wrinkled he offered ideas on how to fix it. He knew he did not know what was going on in their home and in their life. Maybe they had a rough day at school and arrived at Cadets with left over animosity. It was so much healthier to be empathetic – that’s when Naqvi learned that respect is earned. It is not handed out with a promotion.
Every year there are three awards presented at graduation. First is the Top Cadet awarded for competency in the program. The second is Citizenship and evaluates volunteer commitment, personal ability, and values. The third and most senior award is Cadet Leadership. This award is voted on by the Cadets – it is a peer award. In his last year, Naqvi’s peers voted him the recipient of this most prestigious award.
“It was the strangest feeling as I was simply doing what was expected, and treating people how I would like to be treated. But my fellow Cadets viewed it as humble. I am forever grateful, and proud of this award.”
I asked Naqvi to sum up the five major things he learned from his years with the Calgary Police Cadet Corps.
- I was cocky – I learned to be humble.
- I was arrogant. I thought I knew everything, when I actually understood so little.
- I was never physically active and didn’t necessarily care about my health. Cadets engaged me in sports and taught me that my physical health is critical.
- I learned about healthy relationships and how to address others. I used to curse something fierce and now I detest swearing. I learned that I must earn respect, not demand it.
- I did not want to be there initially – my parents forced that decision. But in the end, I learned I wanted to be a leader. Cadets taught me how.
“As a kid I was fixated on control – I held a great deal of anger towards my parents for forcing me into this program. I learned that letting go of my control issues, and letting others who are more qualified take control, is the best teacher. I didn’t necessarily want to be the best, but what I strived for was to be someone people could 100 percent rely on. That is the exact opposite from when I was as a cocky 13 year old.”
When I asked Naqvi why he felt the Calgary Police Cadet Corps should continue to be funded, his answer was insightful – “there are youth who need this now more than ever before.”
“I think we all recognize that Constables and Senior level Cadets are human. In other programs, Officers tell you exactly what to do. Our program gave us insight and taught us. We had to stumble around on our own, which entrenched our skills. I learned leadership, integrity, and the importance of excellent communication.
“Some kids don’t receive much guidance these days. There is a lot of growing up to do while our bodies are in puberty, and peer pressure from our friends can be insurmountable. This program allowed me to ground myself. My energy and outbursts were all over the map and I was racked with harmful and negative emotions. Over the five years in the program, Cadets offered me a clear vision of someone I could and wanted to become, and the life skills of how to reach that new person.”
Cadet Corps has also offered Naqvi a career path into the Military. It taught him discipline.
“I had to obey commands, participate in drill, and in my senior years I was the person younger Cadets were dependent upon. Even simply taking care of my uniform created a routine that was rewarded when I did a great job. I learned there were rewards for doing things with true sense of purpose.”
And where will this lead Naqvi?
“Ultimately I want to be a Sergeant Major within the Military. I envision a life-long career employing everything I learned. I am seeking to begin my military career as soon as possible, to further my growth.”
The Calgary Police Cadet Corps has rewarded Naqvi with at least ten friends he knows will be in his life forever. They all came from different backgrounds and situations, but Cadets always brought them together. Now, for life.
Cadets also opened Naqvi’s eyes and heart to new cultures. He felt somewhat closed off to diversity, but volunteered at a Round Dance with the First Nations. When he was invited to participate, it opened up a new opportunity to dance, sing, and understand their traditions.
“I want to volunteer in many more capacities because I realize how much it taught me. I used to think volunteering just meant I was simply donating my time. We all learn so much and feel such pride representing the Cadet Corps, wearing our uniform, setting higher standards for ourselves. We personally volunteer, but we know we are representing Cadets and the program, the Calgary Police Foundation that funds our program, and the Calgary Police Service that we are partnered with.”
Volunteering their time comes on top of the weekly commitment of attending Cadets every Thursday evening from 5:45 – 9:00 p.m.
“I understand that graduating now means to move on, but I will miss the people. It is so opposite from the day I started when I wanted nothing to do with any of it. I guess my parents do know best after all!”
Now, Naqvi’s parents respect him. His Dad salutes him. His Mom calls him her soldier boy. They complement his positive attitude, posture, discipline, focus, kindness, and gentle behaviour.
“Yes, I was a trouble maker, but I was also shy when I couldn’t hide behind the “safety in numbers” of the wrong kids I was hanging with. It’s amazing how much more trouble a person gets into with peer pressure. That’s what my parents knew – that I could be a better person if they plucked me out of my environment and put me somewhere with discipline and the opportunity to learn about myself.”
“I didn’t admit to it at the time, but looking back I know I was not a good kid to my parents. My Dad always wanted me to join law enforcement. In my final year of Cadets, Dad came to graduation and thought he would see me simply standing on the sidelines. But instead, he saw me doing the commands and being a leader. According to my Mom, he called his family back home that night to brag about his ‘new’ son. My parents are not worried about me anymore, instead they are proud of me.
Naqvi quietly admits near the end of our conversation that if it were not for the Calgary Police Cadet Corps, he would have been 13 or 14 years old and living on the street.
“There was so much happening, I was in with the wrong crowd, the peer pressure was unbelievable. My parents knew long before I did that something terrible would happen if they didn’t get me into a structured and disciplined program, and they were right. Even though I still miss that movie I was supposed to go to with my friends, I look back and see that all of this has turned me into a happy, conscientious, successful contributing member of society – and not a criminal, or worse, a victim.
As we conclude, Naqvi gives me a short family history lesson. The reason Mom and Dad were so worried is that Dad knew in his heart his son needed stricter guidance. Mom was terrified her son would end up like the people she knew back home. There was family precedence, and when Naqvi’s life trajectory was taking a dangerous turn, Mom and Dad recognized all the signs. Naqvi is eternally grateful to them.
“Kids are insecure when we are growing up. We don’t know what’s going on. Peer pressure masks kids who look like they are cool, and then the pressure to join their gang is incredible. The messages taught at Cadets were all the ones I needed to hear.”
Naqvi has had the opportunity to mentor a new young Cadet who he says could be himself looking in the mirror.
“He was as cocky as I was, but the scary part is that he was already embracing the street life. I hope my story is enough to save him.”
Naqvi has a new found understanding of leadership at the conclusion of all this.
“It is like a pyramid. In order for change to take root, it needs to happen at the foundation of the pyramid. But if you need positive change to occur in the first place, it needs to start at the top. If you are the President of a company that provides poor customer service to your clients, the President needs to lead a change in attitude. We can’t change it ourselves at the foundation if we don’t have someone mentoring us from the top of the pyramid who is much more qualified than we are.”
Naqvi asked to conclude our interview by saying how thankful he is for all the other skills Cadets taught him such as CPR. A while ago Naqvi was hiking with his sister, and she suffered an allergic reaction. He was able to help her. He received his gun license certification, and also received help from Senior Cadets when he was looking for his first job. Naqvi is an active journal writer, recording a positive thought each day. The Calgary Police Cadet Corps, in addition to the hard skills it taught him, also taught soft skills that he will use for life.
This is an excerpt from Naqvi’s journal upon graduating from the Calgary Police Cadet Corps:
Story by Corinne Wilkinson