At Serve & Connect, we believe in the power of partnerships. When police and community work together, great things happen. Trust is built. Resources are shared. Voices are empowered. And most importantly, real, lasting improvements are made that lead to safe communities where everyone can thrive.
Yet, while we believe in that collaboration is key, we also know it can be hard to do.
When Kassy asked me “is it working, can you see a difference”; I paused – I shouldn’t have paused… but I paused.The question came on the tail end of the Summer Series which was a series of positive non-enforcement police/community engagements that culminated in a community cook out. What stood out to me from each event was how the attendance kept growing. During the first event there was a sense of reluctance in the air that could be seen by everyone in attendance. But as we continued to show up week after week, the attendance and camaraderie grew. Our fourth week, the community cookout, was perhaps the largest turnout as well as community engagement. Everyone stepped up and filled in where help was needed; police officers were cooking on the grill; and community members were adhoc DJs. It was a great time. The seed of friendships were planted over that month, and it was apparent that trust was being built in both directions.
Then it happened: violence struck the community. Our new friends were directly impacted by senseless violence. Sadly, what stood out to me in the following days were two fold. First, the community response to the violence was timely and appropriate. Community trauma partners showed up in force to ‘be present’ for anyone who needed resources. But sadly there was still a numbness in the community that translated to ‘just another day’ mindset – and that bothers me, violence should not be the ‘norm’.
So when Kassy asked me if I thought it was working, I paused to ask myself is it really working? Are we magnifying the potential for youth to thrive or are we just “doing our job”? It was at that moment that I saw a child from one of our recent events at a local gas station. His face lit up when he saw me and he made it a point to let me know that he remembered me from a previous Summer Series event. His mother was equally engaging. Although this took mere seconds, it was the sign I needed to know that our work in the community is working.
The mission of the North Columbia Youth Empowerment Initiative has always been to strengthen partnerships with the aim of improving community safety and promoting youth outcomes in North Columbia by magnifying the potential for youth to thrive in a safe environment. This mission will take a lot of work and cannot be measured on a day to day basis. The tragedy of a single event cannot be the metric we measure the NCYEI success on, rather it is measured in all of the little moments that happen in the blink of an eye.