Thursday night at the historic Apollo Theater, I joined 1200 police officers (new graduates of the academy) and community members at a demonstration workshop of Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids. The program was established by Dr. Lenora Fulani in 2006 after the tragic police shooting of Sean Bell. The program is run by the All Stars Project in partnership with the NYPD and brings young people together with police officers using a performance based model to help them see each other, empathize and create a new conversation. Dr. Fulani told the audience that she has conducted 102 workshops to date in every borough in the city.
Also with us from Ferguson, MO was Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, a minister and community leader, Reverend Dinah Tatman, and Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson. I was very glad that they were there.
At one point in the evening, Dr. Fulani said that two of the hardest things to be in this town are a police officer or a young person of color. She told NYPD News, “We believe that we have tapped into the humanity of young people and the officers and helped them to exhibit it in the workshops and to rely on it in the streets. If these two groups can create a new way of relating, it would broadly resound.”
While these photos (shot from my seat) cannot begin to capture what was an emotional and hopeful journey we all took together, I wanted to give you a glimpse. There were many poignant moments: when a young person shared what it was like to watch his family struggle and not have enough food at home or when a police officer shared that he spent time in a shelter as a young person. And there were wonderful moments of hilarity and awkwardness. At one point Dr. Fulani asked the young people and police officers to create a skit together about a family that wants a pet, but what pet? You saw how the act of performing together changed the environment and the capacity to see each other in new ways.
The evening ended with Dr. Fulani instructing us all, community and police officers to turn and speak to the “other” behind or in front of us and create a five minute conversation together. Wow, very impactful. I spoke with a new police officer who grew up and lives in Baldwin in Nassau County and is assigned to a precinct in BedStuy, Brooklyn. He said that he did not know what kids lives were like there, it was very different from where he grew up… and we talked about the things that impacted on us both in watching the performance.
Thank you Dr. Fulani and the All Stars Project for creating this program and thanks to the NYPD for partnering with the All Stars in this important effort! And thanks to the officers and young people for their willingness to create something new.
The next demonstration workshop will be in July and I hope that you will come take a look.