This past week was a busy one for Heroes In Blue. In addition to our Compassionate Acts Program meeting, we also did the following:
Heroes In Blue Volunteer Meeting June 13, 2017
On Tuesday, we held our volunteer team meeting at Conquest Brewing Company. At our very first volunteer meeting, we had around 5 people. This past week, we had well over 30. It is so exciting to see the movement grow.
At the meeting, we talked about what our vision for change looks like and described how we would get there. The mission of Heroes In Blue is to promote police and community relationships through empathy and action and to provide support to families of fallen officers. To achieve our mission, we have three primary focus areas:
- We use diverse media sources in creative ways to promote a humanizing, positive message about police. Our posts reach an average of 21.2K people per week through our Facebook page alone.
- We focus on facilitating police-driven ideas for building relationships and addressing needs in our community through our Compassionate Acts Program. For example, we are partnering with Harvest Hope Food Bank to pilot an initiative that would provide officers with non-perishable food boxes in case they come across a family need. We are also partnering with Springdale Police Department to put on a 5K that celebrates fathers and raises money for the Midlands Fatherhood Initiative.
- We provide immediate financial aid to families of fallen officers in South Carolina. Since we began, we have donated over $195,000 to families of fallen officers. We will continue this mission through our developing fund for fallen officers in order to provide a donation to the family within 72 hours of an officer dying while on duty.
Chief Kevin Cornett from Springdale Police Department also spoke at the meeting. His story left everyone in awe. He shared about his difficult past and also his resilience. Perhaps the most powerful thing he shared was how he sees so much of his story in many who he arrests. The difference? That he had more resources. Chief’s message of empathy and compassion perfectly reflect the values of Heroes In Blue.
A need that continues to emerge is how to better support those who are homeless in our community. We have several volunteers who are passionate about this issue and look forward to coming up with creative solutions moving forward.
Meeting with PASOs
On Thursday, we had a meeting to brainstorm ideas for building better relationships with the Latino community. The meeting emerged because local law enforcement shared a need to connect with our immigrant community. One of the major reasons is that there is an under-reporting of crime in Latino neighborhoods; this is not because crime doesn’t happen, but because there is a fear that reporting crime could lead to deportation. This makes it hard to serve communities in need and provide victims with the resources they need.
Local law enforcement leadership from Richland and Lexington County Sheriff’s departments and Columbia and Lexington police departments met with leadership from PASOs. PASOs is a state-wide organization that helps the Latino community and service providers work together for strong and healthy families.
At the meeting, we learned about the many things that are going well. We learned that accessibility to Spanish-speaking officers is essential. We heard that a proactive message that voices concern and support of the Latino community helps provide a meaningful foundation for trust. Availability of documentation and literature in Spanish is important as well. We learned about specific initiatives, like Lexington Police Departments partnership with PASOs where they distributed 30 car seats to families in need and Columbia Police Department’s work to engage with landlords in Latino communities.
We also heard about significant challenges. We heard that the relationships are worse in rural areas where there are fewer resources, especially transportation. There are families who are unable to get licenses but have to get to work or bring their children to school. In many areas in South Carolina, there is little to no public transportation, leaving those without licenses little choice but to drive. However, driving without a license is against the law. Law enforcement at the meeting shared how they empathize with the need to drive, but shared their concern – for example, what if they were to let someone drive away without a license and then that person was in a fatal accident?
The discussion was challenging and several in the meeting shared their sadness. However, there was also a voice of hope and appreciation that we were able to come together to have these discussions. We talked about immediate next steps, including the dissemination of guidelines for how departments can better outreach to the Latino community and we also shared a common goal of continuing to work to find strategies for overcoming broader issues.
On Friday June 16, I spoke at the Charleston Forum. The event was intended as a discussion about race relations in memory of those who lost their lives as a result of the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church two years ago.
I spoke on a panel about Criminal Justice and Policing. On the panel was former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, SC State Senator Gerald Malloy, and Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay McKesson. Throughout the panel, I voiced my message of empathy and compassion. I reflected on the impact we play on shaping the narrative – that we can serve to further create division or we can strive for unity and common ground. I urged the audience to be open to speaking to those who are different from them; I said that every life lost is a loss to us all and that the only way we can make change is if we come together in support of one another.
These words carry so much weight for me following the panel. While it is true that we have come far as a country, it is obvious that there is still so much work left to be done. Through Heroes In Blue, our Compassionate Acts Program funds police-driven initiatives to help those in need and build meaningful relationships with the community. We hope that these initiatives contribute to addressing broader issues in our community and work towards coming together over common ground.
On a personal level, I challenge each of us to open our heart up to those who are different from us. Just as I believe we need to celebrate and understand the voices of police and their families, I passionately feel we need to hear from all voices, especially those in communities of color who struggle to have theirs heard. I promise to do all I can to the best of my ability to better our community and I am thankful to have you on this journey with me.