As we celebrate Black History Month, Let’s Talk Express wanted to check in with Maxime-Kalifa Sanou, four years after the story on his athletic achievements and his exemplary discipline was published:
Still employed with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), but now as the Acting Manager of Employee Diversity and Workplace Inclusion Initiatives, Maxime shared with us the latest chapter of his career, some new lessons, and delivered a message of hope to fellow members of the Black community. Here is his story:
“When Let’s Talk Express asked me if I would be interested in sharing my new life experiences during Black History Month, I hesitated. I thought it would be more interesting to introduce new people. However, I also thought that this could be a great opportunity to talk about a major sacrifice that I made three years ago that greatly influenced my career path with CSC.
When the last article about me was published, I was a correctional officer working as a personal property clerk. Shortly before the end of that assignment, I successfully completed a hiring process and became a staff training officer at CSC’s National Training Academy in Kingston, Ontario.
I had to make a very difficult choice that affected several important aspects of my life. I had to uproot my family and force this drastic life change upon them to advance my career. Not to mention that I had to leave my social circle, my friends, and my colleagues at Donnacona Institution, a place that I never thought I would leave.
Despite all these drawbacks, there was also one very positive outcome that would have a very significant impact on my children in the long-term. I would give the gift of bilingualism to my daughter, who was three years old at that time. I think that is the most important aspect that influenced my decision. Three years later, and now she is almost perfectly bilingual! I am very proud of her!
Despite some difficult periods when I missed Québec City, the city where I grew up, and questioning my decision, I had the opportunity to live new experiences in another province while doing very stimulating work. My new position as a trainer has allowed me to share the dedication I have to the work of being a correctional officer.
I witnessed the journey of over a hundred recruits who also decided to serve and protect Canadians by becoming correctional officers with CSC. It is always a pleasure to hear from them and to know that their adjustment to working in an institution is going well.
I have had conversations with Black recruits about racism and discrimination in the correctional environment. The answer I give them is that there is still work to do, but we cannot be discouraged, because CSC is working hard to provide a respectful workplace and is working with employees to ensure a culture change.
A piece of advice that I shared a few times about starting in a new work environment was to find an experienced colleague that you look up to in terms of work ethic, and draw inspiration from them, and regularly ask them for advice. After a while, if this colleague trusts you, they will surely agree to take you under their wing and help make your adjustment to the workplace easier.
I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors when I first started at CSC and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for sharing their knowledge, their experiences, and their valuable advice.
My message for the Black community
There are several messages that I would like Black employees to take from my story. The first would be that, long before me, several Black employees made huge sacrifices so that I could have the opportunities that I have had at CSC. While things have certainly evolved in terms of diversity and inclusion, I promised myself to honour their memory by continuing the work they started and the efforts they have made over time to make our organization a top employer that attracts the best candidates.
My second message is one of hope and encouragement. There are many mentors and allies who are ready to be engaged and take concrete action to ensure that Black employees are entitled to equity and respect of their differences.
That is why I invite everyone to participate in Black History Month activities and take the time to learn more about each other.
World Police and Fire Games
I had the chance to participate in the last World Police and Fire Games in China in 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic began. I returned to athletics by participating in the 100 metre run where I finished fifth in the gold medal final.
As for the basketball team that I played with, made up of Québec City police officers and correctional officers, we were eliminated before the medal round. I have great memories of this recent experience and I look forward to a time when we can all return to the games!
The passion for continuing
In June 2021, I started my 11th year at CSC. Some will say that I am still a public service baby while others will say that I have clocked in some “time” already. Personally, I find that time has passed extremely fast, probably because I have followed the advice that several of my mentors have given me. I remember it as if it were yesterday: “Max, if you want to enjoy your years at CSC, you have to get involved in as many things as possible.”
I think I had the wisdom to listen to them, knowing that these people cared about my success. I can say without hesitation today that I still enjoy working at CSC, with special thanks for all the opportunities that have been offered to me and which continue to present themselves.
I know that not all CSC employees may have the same vision as I do, especially those who have worked in institutions for several years and have experienced difficult, often stressful, and sometimes traumatic situations. To all front-line staff, know that what motivates me is thinking of you and the sacrifices you make every day to protect Canadians. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!