Officers Paul Finch and Todd Kelley fielded students’ questions on how to interact with police officers and hold them accountable for mistreatment—as part of a series of workshops dedicated to honoring a man arrested 30 times for nonviolent protest.
The officers held three different workshops on how to “make good choices” at Wexler/Grant Community School’s annual Martin Luther King Conference Monday. A small but captive audience of middle schoolers, parents and college-aged volunteers listened to the officers’ career advice and pressed them for tips on how to improve community policing.
Yale student Mitchell Jones (pictured middle) asked advice on how to hold individual police officers accountable without escalating the situation, especially in his hometown of Dayton. Fitch said communities should push for better systems to evaluate officers’ performance.
“You have the right to hold us accountable as well,” replied Finch (pictured at left in top photo). “The biggest complaint people have is how officers talk with community members.”
“It’s all about progress and moving forward with the community, making and maintaining relationships,” Kelley told the Independent after the session was over. Part of that relationship involves getting community members to think of officers as people, by “reversing the roles.” The officers initiated role-playing scenarios in which the students approached them for trespassing or loitering, Kelley said, in order to “get them to see both sides of an interaction” between cops and neighbors.
As it has in past iterations, the daylong conference also offered practical workshops on how to manage finances, avoid housing fraud, write better resumes, and maintain mental health. Community-building activities draw on Dr. King’s spirit and “sustain our community,” said organizer Sondi Jackson, a volunteer at the conference for more than a decade. “We want to make sure we’re enlightened,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Felice Duffy (pictured left) and federal probation officer Nicole Owens (pictured right) schooled students on how to avoid gun violence and pull their loved ones away from gang activity.
They showed and held a discussion about a movie called The 5K Motion, sponsored by local outreach organizations, which tells the reality of how young people get caught up in violent crimes.
“I know a lot of young people will be here who know someone affected by gun violence,” Owens said. “As an individual, when you know better, you do better.”
Lighter components of the conference revolved around art and performance, both directly and indirectly related to Dr. King’s mission.
“I’m providing jewelry for people who like to look good and feel good about themselves,” Olivia Henderson said, when asked how her business connected with the reverend’s ideals. She named her jewelry company “Olivia’s Love” in honor of her mother, who died two years ago.
“Don’t forget, people can be together to be friends!” her grandniece Kyla Roberts piped up.
Later, Roberts crouched over a drawing of MLK—represented as a patriotic superhero with a star-and-stripe-covered cape.
“Do you know why Martin Luther King loved America?” Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister Channon Miller asked her, handing her a brown crayon for his skin. Miller said she thought having kids imagine activists as superheroes would build their “reverence of these figures” of the Civil Rights Movement.
Leading a circle of small hands in a basic 4/4 rhythm, Baba Jide Davis (pictured right) drummed a bit of historical self-awareness into his student groups.
“If you look at civil rights, it’s about being equal or about being able to identify yourself as a certain being,” Davis said. Teaching African drumming builds “cultural awareness—knowing where you come from.”
Myra and Lou Hughes ended the afternoon swinging—teaching swing dance to adult participants, who were learning the moves for the first time.
“We’re been dancing consistently since 9:50. We’re bringing people together to have fun, to learn something,” Myra Hughes said.