Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kids And Kops Can Talk In Frederick, Maryland!

New Horizons and The Frederick City Police Demonstrate Kids And Kops Can Talk

Anxiety and fear ran high with no space for release as a room full of people, mostly adults, awaited the van load of kids from Frederick’s Housing Authority. Gathered at Dublin Roasters Coffee House for the fifth and final in a series of Coffee House Conversation On Race Relations, this one was to be the highlight in a succession of New Horizons Support Network, Inc. sponsored programs, designed to build an enhanced community unity in Frederick, Maryland.

But this program’s agenda was fraught with concern. “Kids and Kops In Conversation” was the scheduled presentation for the day. But could these two, “kids and kops,” ordinarily polarized, often warring factions, even come close to a conversation with civility? No one there was certain it could be accomplished.

For months New Horizons had been meeting with members of the Frederick City Police,  planning this event.  Kids and Kops In Conversation was to be a challenge but with the four other Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations behind, successfully achieving their goals, the organizing team for this event was ready for the test.

With Brandon Chapman, Youth Activities Coordinator for the Housing Authority, in charge of bringing the kids and Cpl. Jason Keckler responsible for recruiting the police, the planning reams still found themselves to be apprehensive, facing into the wind. Herman King, one of the organizers and a football coach at Linganore High School, laid out some of the hard places that might need to be encountered.

With an incisive eye, based on decades of coaching youth in Frederick, not only on sports but, even more dramatically, on how people, especially young African American males, might safely interact with police, Herman had prepared the group with guidelines on how to openly address issues that potentially end up in violence. Herman’s “Ten Things Kids Might Want To Ask Kops” painfully summarized some of the most pressing of these.

Questions for the police such as: 1.What gets cops so aggravated that they get physical; 2. What can be done to end deaths of black men in the custody of law enforcement?; 3. How can I be assured that my race will not work against me when dealing with law enforcement? were on the money as topics that would need to be addressed, at some point, if a genuine success for the Kids and Kops in Conversation endeavor could succeed.

As the program began, once the honored guests, the van load of kids from the projects finally arrived, almost an hour late, the single most important item necessary to discuss was the hopes and the fears of the group, especially the latter, the fears for what lay ahead.

The program began with a moment of silence, recognizing the pain of recent violence; the murder only the week before of the Ice Cream Man in Lucas Village and just days before the racist-driven murders of nine African American church goers in their place of worship. Obviously, pain and fear set the underlying tone for what this group was now embarking upon.

Anastasia Rosen-Jones, Executive Director of the New Horizons Support Network, Inc., officially opened the program with a near-tearful apology to the African Americans present that people that look like her, Caucasian, were murdering people who look like them. Then the conversation really got started with people coming up to the front stage to share their fears and their hopes for what lay ahead. For the adults, the single greatest fear was that the group in attendance would simply not be able to talk. For the kids they were too shy – or fearful – to even share what they feared, or hoped.

But surprise of all surprises, miracle of miracles, everyone did talk. With goodwill and courage, the attendees of the event made it through, discovering in the process that kids and kops could talk in Frederick, Maryland!

They had made a beginning. The conversations actually had been relatively smooth going, once started. A rite of passage had occurred for these “kids and kops;”; they could just hang out, person-to-person at a neighborhood coffee shop. What made it turn out that way?

A pledge, carried out, perfectly, by the Frederick City Police, organized and orchestrated by Cpl. Jason Keckler, and all the other adults present, facilitators, volunteers, parents and the voices of the youth who had the courage to speak and be heard. And they were!

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