By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Early Thursday morning would normally be quiet time at Winspear Opera House. But on August 11 it was hardly business as usual at the arts district venue, its deep red-ringed architecture welcomed several buses filled with kids ages 10-15.
The lobby bustled as Let’s Talk: 2016 Dallas Police & Youth Forum quickly cranked into high gear. There’s a media gridlock hovered around Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Before you could blink, there’s former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and fullback Daryl Johnston. The four-hour Let’s Talk event organized by the Dallas Police Department encouraged an open dialogue with kids, the kind of easy communication that demolishes stereotypes as it builds bridges.
This was a chance for kids to meet officers, not to mention a few local celebrities, and learn the reading, writing and arithmetic of your friendly neighborhood men and women in blue. Kids were treated to breakfast and lunch, as well as a ton of free swag from Dallas Police Dive Team, All Stars Project, Department of Justice, Dallas Fire Rescue Department, Kids and Cops, Inc., Dallas City Health and Human Services, Eckerd Kids, DART, South Texas Dental, Dallas Public Library, YMCA, UNT Dallas, City of Dallas Teen Court Program, Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police, Dallas City of Learning, the citywide initiative managed by Big Thought, and many more.
Reporters and TV cameras were everywhere. Photographers – professional and amateur – snapped away with cameras and cell phones. Kids breathlessly skipped from booth to booth soaking up the sensory overload experience.
Chief Brown opened the program inside the Winspear theater and his inspirational remarks resonated as he reached into his personal history to foster a sense of camaraderie, an always-powerful connection that speaks eye-level from human to human.
“You have to surround yourself with positive people who do great things,” says Chief Brown. “When you surround yourself with positive people who do great things, guess what’s going to happen to you? Great things!”
The event was as much a meet-and-greet with your neighborhood cops as it was a pep rally meant to give kids the support and motivation they need to succeed in life. In other words, Let’s Talk served as yet another way to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income youth in Dallas.
“It’s important to engage with our young people, and it’s important to communicate with our young people,” says Chief Brown. “We want to make sure you, your sisters and your brothers are safe. We ask you to treat every citizen with respect no matter how old they are or what town they came from. We won’t tolerate anything less.”
The presentation included more motiving words from nationally syndicated radio personality and TV host Rock-T Holla as well as a DJ, color guards, a kids dance competition, T-shirt giveaways by Mavs Man, prizes for kids and adult chaperones, and a mini talent show by All Stars Project kids.
Antoine Joyce, All Stars Project City Leader, used to be a hip-hop dancer. He believes in the power of performing, not only as a way to envision a future but also as a key to survival. “Performing gave me something to believe in and be a part of,” he says. “It gave me something to do with the anger I had about growing up poor. When you perform you can instill something positive in your life instead of anger.”
That basic, extremely important message made its way into every presentation on that black curtain-draped stage. Think positive, be positive, do the right thing. Smith and Johnston shared their personal stories about playing football, stories that proved to be quite universal. These are life lessons for everybody.
“In football we have one common goal,” says Smith. “We don’t think about race. We don’t think about religion. We respect each other. We want to win the games so we can become champions of the world. That way we can also become champions in life.”
Johnston chimed in with this nugget: “We have a role in the team,” he says. “We ask each other to do your job to the best of your abilities. It’s the same thing in life, in asking you to have the courage to do the right thing.”
Tap into your talent, and that talent could lead you to becoming a police officer. Chief Brown was a perennial cheerleader for police department recruitment, challenging kids to be the leaders of tomorrow by becoming police officers. Then they could help shape the next generation of adults.
With that in mind, six Dallas police officers offered a panel discussion about proper behavior in the presence of a law enforcement member. The rules are easy to remember: Stay calm, keep your hands visible, and don’t retaliate with resistance. All citizens should always be treated fairly by police officers. They encouraged everyone to report what they believe to be unfair treatment by a member of law enforcement. Later, kids were grouped by ages and genders to participate in breakout sessions about their relationships with police officers.
Outside of the Winspear, not far from the signature B-I-G sign and an impressive Dallas Police Marshal truck, Joli Angel Robinson, Manager, Office of Community Affairs at the Dallas Police Department, stressed the importance of working together, of nurturing valuable partnerships that benefit the community we all live in.
“This really helps us build relationships,” says Robinson. “You have to be in the community every day. It’s about being consistent. Our units go out and talk about safety. It’s about having an open dialogue. We have an amazing partnership with Big Thought. A partnership with Big Thought really allows the police department to partner with the awesome efforts you already have.”
Big Thought thanks the Dallas Police Department, All Stars Project, Dallas Public Library, YMCA, and our many other great partners for the continuous support. We also extend sincere gratitude to our Dallas City of Learning donors. For a full list of DCoL contributors, please visit bigthought.org/dallascityoflearning.
Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio