Guyanese Sherina Naraine, left, is interim president of the Guyanese Association of Waterloo Region and Kris Ally is the chair.
KITCHENER — Kris Ally is candid when recalling the terrible events of Christmas Eve, 1996, when four young males attacked a pizza shop owner and his delivery driver in a botched and bloody robbery attempt.
Ally, a native of Guyana, was one of those teens and spent four years in federal prison but rather than getting sucked into what could have become a cycle of crime, he took a different path, completing high school by correspondence while in jail, then enrolling in the Toronto School of Business on his release.
Ally, 33, has since become a hip hop/reggae recording artist, business owner and father of a nine-year-old boy and now the Kitchener man has taken on a new challenge, that of outspoken role model for West Indian youth he fears are following the same dangerous path he did as a teenager.
The problem, he said, is that culturally Guyanese families do not get involved in the wider community, leaving their young people fruitlessly searching for a place to belong. On New Year’s Eve, Ally hopes to bring his Guyanese community together with the wider West Indian community at the first annual all ages NYE 2K12 Show & Dance, a celebration of West Indian culture.
The event is open to all cultures and will feature music, food and door prizes, presented by the nascent Waterloo Region Guyanese Association, another of Ally’s initiatives.
“If it had been around when I was a youth …” he pondered.
Ally spent 10 years in Toronto developing his multimedia and recording business, SBG Studios and SoundBoy Records as well as a clothing line. Last year, he moved the business to Kitchener, to the old Boehmer Box Building on Duke Street.
Having been away from the region for 15 years, Ally was disheartened to see nothing much had changed to engage youth, although the Guyanese population is substantial. Statistics Canada reported in 2006 there were nearly 2,000 Guyanese in the region but Ally believes the numbers are closer to 3,000, plus immigrants from Trinidad and Jamaica. That’s a lot of youth sharing similar cultures, yet they have little opportunity for community involvement. If his plans come to fruition, Ally hopes to eventually build a cultural centre but for now, he’s leading by example.
Since returning to Kitchener, Ally has been dismayed by the youth coming to his music studio, spouting ideas of pulling robberies or joining gangs. “I want to give them a spanking,” he said matter of factly though at the same time, he’s encouraging their creative side, hoping to “showcase their talent” as recording artists.
And he’s not shy about telling them exactly where criminal activity got him and how the reality of a stupid mistake becomes terrifyingly clear once that cell door slams shut in your face.
For Ally, the violence of the crime and his time behind bars will always be a part of him and he’s not shy speaking about his experiences, particularly the subsequent death of co-accused Ryan Ecker who was found dead in a Kitchener motel room a year after he was released from prison. Foul play was ruled out. Ally said it was suicide.
Ecker was only 24 and had served five of an eight-year sentence as the ringleader in the attack on the pizza shop owner.
“When he died, it had an impact on me,” said Ally. “It took me to a deep spot.
“If I could save just one kid, then there won’t be another Ryan (tragedy).”
Ally’s girlfriend Sherina Naraine, host of the New Year’s Eve event, said she is inspired by what Ally has done with his life and as an elementary school teacher, she believes positive role models make a difference in the life of a child.
“I see the kids in the school system, some are reaching some are not,” she said. “If they don’t have anyone to turn to, they turn to crime, or gangs. Gangs give them support. They have to belong to something.”
Given his well-publicized criminal history, Ally is aware he could face backlash from the public by coming forward and he has steeled himself.
“People are surprised that I’m putting myself out there,” he said. “I made a mistake. I was a youth. I think everything happens for a reason. You take your life experiences and turn it into a positive.”
The criminal conviction and memories of that night will never fade from Ally’s life, but he is determined to use those experiences to teach kids there are alternatives to violence and crime.
“I want them to know, what I’ve become.”
The 1st Annual all ages NYE 2K12 Show & Dance
Dec. 31, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Tickets: adults $35, teens $25 available at O.K.’s Tropical Supermarket, A To Z African & Caribbean Groceries, Little Bean Coffee Bar and online at ClubZone.com
Some proceeds support The Tina Insanally Foundation, enriching the lives of Guyanese children
Trinity Hall, 700 Fischer-Hallman Rd., Kitchener