Interesting People – Important Work

I have had a lot to be thankful for over the past few months. Personally, I took a great trip to visit family and friends in Australia, and I will have all my children under one roof for the first time in almost a decade over the Christmas holidays. Professionally,  I was offered an opportunity to do some freelance work by a former NC A&T professor of mine, Bonnie Newman Davis.

In addition to having been a professor at NC A&T and other universities, Bonnie is also a journalist, writer and editor associated with, among many other organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists. She is also the founder and director of the BND Institute of Media and Culture. It was her work as an editor, in this case for The Advocate – the newsletter for the Virginia Union University Center for the Study of the Urban Child. It was an awesome opportunity to get paid to write, but also to talk to some folks who are passionate about issues related to community policing and the Black Lives Matter movement, and you can read the December issue here.

Jeree Thomas, policy director at Campaign for Youth Justice, is one of those passionate and committed people I spoke to. She was enthused about the innovation being shown at local levels in addressing issues related to youth justice and community policing. Jeree used to work with the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Virginia, so one of the examples she gave of this innovation at work was of an arts program that brings together police and incarcerated youth.

I also spoke with Sgt. Carol Adams of the Richmond City Police. Her love of what she does every day came through as she spoke about her work as an officer in the community. “My priority is caring for the people who have lost a loved one, and the people who are hurting,” she told me. “I automatically step into that role back on the other side of the table, not on the investigative side, but to hug them to hold them, to empathize with them and to educate them on the process that will take place from the policing side to give them more of an understanding.”

A survivor of domestic violence herself, she also began The Carol Adams Foundation to provide support and assistance to victims and families experiencing domestic violence.

Richmond mother-of-four, Amanda Lynch spoke with me about her organizing work in Richmond. She formed Black Lives Matter 804, which she is currently trying to formalize as the official Richmond chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization. Her perception of the work officers like Sgt. Adams are doing in Richmond was a positive one.

“I think the police in Richmond have done a really good job within the community so they are not seen as just ‘someone who’s there to arrest my dad’ but as a part of the community, not independent of it,” Amanda said. One of the initiatives she was pleased to see officers working with was Coaches Against Violence Everywhere. This group’s vision is to use their influence as coaches to mentor youth and develop character through education in healthy relationships, social skills, conflict resolution and community leadership.

Here in Connecticut,  I spoke with Bishop John Selders. I had spoken with him for an article I wrote when I was still in classes, but it was good to catch up on some of the more recent work being done by Moral Monday CT. On the day I spoke to him in October, Bishop Selders had been recently arrested during a protest in Hartford; however, we also spoke about some of the broader actions the group had been involved with including a trip as part of a Black Lives Matter delegation to Brazil in the lead-up to the Rio Olympic Games.

“It was a trip of a lifetime and an amazing opportunity,” he told me, “but it was an awful experience at the same time. Brazil has a terrible track record around state-sanctioned violence to black people.”

Bishop Selders talked about the folks they met, including some with Mothers of May, an organization of largely mothers who have lost sons and daughters to state-sanctioned violence. It has birthed a movement of parents who are out on the front lines being arrested, marching, doing policy work – channeling their suffering and pain into community action and to bettering their society.

He also spoke about a program he was presenting – Revolutionary Conversations – designed to engage the audience in an exploration of the theological sources behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We have stepped into a global and a national context with our work even while we continue to struggle with the day-to-day happenings here in Connecticut,” Bishop Selders said.

Last, but certainly not least, I spoke with former Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel. Kevin discussed the Police School Diversion Program he instituted after he was inspired by a challenge from Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Georgia. He wanted to know what Kevin could do in Philadelphia to help the roughly 1,600 students that were being arrested each year for mostly summary and misdemeanor offenses. His actions to create a pre-arrest diversion program help keep kids out of the criminal justice system and move them into service programs that can help them and their families.

I’m looking forward to more opportunities to speak to interesting people and share what I have learned. You can read what I wrote about this time by clicking here.


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