Making a more racially diverse police department a reality is something the community and officers alike need to stand behind. That was the consensus at the 48th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner and Awards, put on by the Greater Grand Rapids branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was a sponsor of the event, which featured keynote speaker David Rahinsky, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief. “Are we at the Grand Rapids Police Department doing all we can to address those issues,” Rahinsky asked.
In an effort to boost minority representation on the police force, the NAACP just recently announced $2,500 scholarships that will be offered to black candidates interested in pursuing a Grand Rapids police job. The police department and the NAACP are also working to identify minority internship candidates. Rahinsky said the police department has a great relationship with minority leadership in the community, but said there’s work to be done in presenting police work as a viable and appealing career for young minority candidates. “We need to knock down barriers and stereotypes that have portrayed law enforcement in a negative light,” he said. Rahinsky recounted injustices suffered by minority law enforcement officers working during segregation. He said black officers in some parts of the country couldn’t even arrest a white person without calling for help from a white officer. It’s groups like the NAACP that shaped change then and can shape change now, Rahinsky said. He said he looks forward to further collaboration and dialogue within the community. “We recognize we’re at our best when we partner with others,” he said.
Interim NAACP President Cle Jackson, who is also a BCBSM Senior Community Liaison, said he understands that there’s more work to be done. “The NAACP is in a position to help the Grand Rapids Police Department change the narrative in the community and be a positive force,” he said. The night also featured music performed by Bunny DeBarge, best known as the lone female in the 1980s Motown family super group DeBarge. Several community members and organizations were recognized with awards, including:
- The Floyd Skinner Criminal Justice Award went to Professor Tracey Brame, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
- Michael Scruggs, Kent County Black Caucus, took home the Walter Bergman Voting Rights and Political Representation Award.
- The Role Model Education Award went to Cole Williams, with the Evolution Project.
- Brad Mathis, of Saint Mary’s Mercy Health, received the Community Service Health Equity Award.
- The Hazel R. Lewis Presidential Award went to Linc Community Revitalization.
One of the last presentations of the evening went to retiring NAACP President Hazel Lewis, who received a standing ovation from the crowd. Lewis served for 14 years, making her the longest-serving president in the 95-year history of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP branch. “We thank you for your service and your dedication,” Jackson told Lewis.