Philadelphia police officers and some inner-city youth joined in a showcase of songs and poetry with the InterAct Theatre Company yesterday to demonstrate that unity can be achieved between two seemingly disparate groups.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program helped facilitate the unity through its "Cops & Kids" project, an ambitous, art-based program that brings together neighborhood police officers with youth involved with the Adolescent Violence Reduction Program.
The hope is that each side can have a better understanding of the other.
"I feel like we've been able to make good progress when it comes to bringing these two groups together," said Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts Program. "We've been able to work with 50 police officers and several hundred young people.
"The projects they've undertaken have been complicated, but there's been real rewards, like the feeling that real dialogue is beginning between the two groups."
That sort of interaction and understanding were on display during the showcase, which featured a number of interesting sets.
One was "Stereotypes," performed by one group of young people and officers from North Philadelphia's 22nd and 25th police districts.
"It was real insightful to see the kids perform," said Officer Kelly Hall, of the 25th, who took part in the showcase. "It was my first time being involved, and it was an excellent experience."
Hall said that the showcase was nice but that the real work had been done "behind the scenes," during workshops throughout the year.
"The sessions we had, one-on-one, were the most important things," Hall said. "They asked us questions, like do we have problems at home. They finally got to see that we're not just a uniform with a gun and badge.
We're actually people with moms and dads, too."
That point resonated with Kenny Patterson, 15, who performed with the first group and had a few particularly timely verses in his spoken-word presentation.
"It was weird [working with cops] and seeing how cops view things," Kenny said. "I know it changed me a lot."
He said he hopes that the cops who are involved will see that "young people have problems, too," and that a cop's best avenue may be to sit with the youth and just listen.
"They shouldn't judge us before they know us," Kenny said. "It was good for us to come together like this."
According to Golden, there will be many more opportunities for the groups to bond, given the upcoming Cops & Kids schedule.
"The program has been going on for a year, and in that time, we've had workshops, two major murals, a performance piece, and we're putting together a compilation of writings to be published later on," Golden said.
"Moving forward, we're planning a major mural, working more with InterACT Theatre and bringing in a youth-development specialist from Oakland, then a forum in the spring.
"Mural Arts is excited about opportunities to help combat violence and work with young people and bring together groups of constituents whose paths do not often cross."*