By Edward Henderson
When police lights splash on your rear view mirror as an African American in this country, several thoughts and emotions rush through your mind. What should I say to the officer? Will they come out with their guns drawn? Will I make it home? Imagine, however, that the first thing you recognize when a police officer approaches in San Diego isn’t their gun or their badge, but a familiar face. Think of how much fear would be alleviated knowing that you’ve sat next to the officer who pulled you over at a Padres game. This is the vision of Embrace founder Sean Shepard.
His program entitled ‘Game Changers’ creates safe spaces for consistent, moderated, two-way dialogue to occur between members of the community, law enforcement and members of the judicial system in a common ground setting: a sports/entertainment environment. Each meeting begins with the moderated dialogue and ends with attendees going to a sports or entertainment event together to continue the conversation.
“After Ferguson and subsequent events that took place involving unarmed black males being killed, not only did that bother me, but my white friends and acquaintances who were voicing their support for other issues, they were completely silent about that,” said Shepard. “I did a lot of venting and praying. As a result of that prayer, this program was born.”
On Monday, September 18th, Game Changers hosted its 20th meeting. The event took place downtown at the Sempra Energy Building before the Padres game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Attending games after the meeting falls back on my experience as an athlete and a coach. I know sports can be a healer and magnetize people to come together. One of the things that if we’re going to solve a problem is try to establish some common ground.”
Monday’s meeting was moderated by San Diego State’s Chief Diversity Officer Aaron Bruce. The conversation centered on identifying the biggest problems facing the community and law enforcement today and how to address them. Issues involving communication, trust and compliance were hot topics during the discussion with salient points made from both active duty police and community members alike.
A highlight from the event came from District Attorney Summer Stephan when she mentioned that while people are conditioned to be afraid of people of color when it comes to crime, that statistically speaking, white males are more likely to commit certain violent crimes including rape.
“I can’t tell you how important it was to hear the DA say what she said,” Shepard said. “Statistically speaking, those are the facts. If we’re going to teach our children to be afraid of somebody, why aren’t we teaching them to be afraid of that demographic? I’ve been saying that for years. The truth is there and right now we have someone in office that is aware of the truth.”
Moving forward, Shepard plans to have 15-20 Game Changer events each month correlating with local sports and entertainment schedules after when the program receives full funding.
“Everybody needs to be exposed to this. Rather if you have problems with law enforcement or not. Perhaps you need to be in a room with people that do instead of looking for it on the news.”
The next Game Changes focus group will be held Saturday, September 23rd at 11am in the Sports Center Conference Room at the University of San Diego. Game time starts at 2pm. Visit gamechanger1.org for more information.