Three years ago, my husband Greg, an officer with the Forest Acres Police Department in South Carolina, was killed in the line of duty.

As I reflect on what I have learned since his death, I am left with a sincere belief that we can prevent tragedies like Greg’s death from happening to others if we find the courage for collaboration. It is through finding the strength to connect with those who seem most different from ourselves that we can create effective solutions that produce real change for our shared futures.

This is not a new idea. Many fields, including community psychology, public health, and healthcare, show that working with others from different backgrounds and experiences produces positive results. Despite mounting evidence supporting the importance of collaboration, we, as a society, often remain committed to sticking to what we know. Our desire to protect our own beliefs and our own kind can supersede our willingness to do what it takes to achieve the healing we so desire. It seems our wish for change and our actions are in terrible misalignment. It is true, resistance to collaboration can be driven by real experiences of pain, discrimination and hate. Yet, I have observed, even when confronted with progress, we firmly plant our feet on the ground demanding more one-sided change.

To overcome these barriers to change, we must find the courage for collaboration, which requires empathy, openness, and strength. This is something I have experienced firsthand. It was only through finding empathy for the man who killed my husband that I was able to find peace in my heart. I pictured how I would feel if I were his mother and I immediately imagined him as a little boy, so full of hope and possibilities. I realized I knew nothing about him or his story. Yet, I was aware of the many institutional issues in our country which increase risk for black and brown children. It was through this painful, personal exploration I was able to see the fight against poverty and racism was directly linked with my own grief.

It was through this process of peace I saw an opportunity to end divisiveness between cops and community. By providing law enforcement officers with tools for addressing root causes of crime and violence, and by fostering partnerships with community organizations that enhance resilience in under-resourced communities. My nonprofit organization, Serve & Connect, strives to improve the conditions that give rise to issues of community safety. We also seek to create settings that encourage relationships to grow and allow for honest dialogue that leads to effective solutions. Our guiding values are empathy, trust, and an appreciation for our shared humanity.

Since my husband’s death, I have focused on bringing together police and the communities they serve. Yet, I believe this message – the message of working together to build stronger communities – resonates beyond police-community relations. We are living in divisive times. This polarizing climate restricts open and honest conversation. It inhibits our ability to find common ground. It stifles progress.

But, what if there was a different way? What if we could find a way to discuss our most pressing issues with people we view as being our greatest opposition? Could we see a path forward that brings all voices to the table? Could we enhance buy-in for change and develop solutions that are created from diverse perspectives?

Could we build a better future for those to come?

Many have lost a loved one in tragedy before I did, and sadly, there have been many more losses since. But, I believe, with every inch of my heart, that there is another option. We can never rid our world of pain, but by working together, we can reduce mountains of unnecessary heartache. For instance, what if we could have found the man who killed my husband before that fateful day? Would we have found a man in need? And what if we could have helped him? Would my husband still be here?

Our outcomes are so intertwined. What happens to one impacts us all. If we could see that, and use that as our driving force behind discussions that seek solutions, I believe we would be able to stimulate a tidal wave for change, one step, and one heart, at a time.

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