The City of Orlando hosted the sixth Orlando Speaks event, a series of interactive workshops facilitated by the Valencia College Peace and Justice Institute, on June 4 at Lake Nona High School, where citizens were able to build relationships with the Orlando Police Department (OPD) by engaging in innovative communication strategies. According to the director of the Peace and Justice Institute, Rachel Allen, the goal is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and local citizens by opening up dialogue in a safe space.
The interactive workshop consisted of everyone sitting around tables. Each group had four people. Out of these four people, one of them was a police officer. The objective was to have conversations with one another in a judgment-free manner. Full confidentiality was also promised to everyone who participated. Sergeant Eduardo Bernal, who is a public information officer with OPD, stressed that he always encourages people to come out and have these conversations with the local police because a community member can gain so much perspective from an officer’s on-the-job standpoint.
For the first activity, each person was given one minute to share their personal experience with law enforcement while the other group members listened. Abiding by the rules of the activity, no one was allowed to ask questions or comment in regard to the stories being told until allowed to do so by the instructor. This gave everyone the chance to be heard without being interrupted or spoken over. At the end, everyone was able to speak to one another by asking questions and commenting on the stories that were told.
Handouts were also placed at each seat that included more resources to help enlighten people on overcoming biases and stereotypes that they might assume upon others. Among the handouts was a sheet by the Peace and Justice Institute called Principles for How We Treat Each Other. The paper’s 13 bullet points were to:
Create a hospitable and accountable community
Create an advice-free zone
Practice asking honest and open questions
Give space for unpopular answers
Speak your truth
When things get difficult, turn to wonder
Practice slowing down
All voices have value
Allen said the City of Orlando partnered with the Peace and Justice Institute back in 2015 when the nation was facing a lot of issues with civil unrest. “With Ferguson, with Baltimore, with issues around excessive use of force coming out of police departments and even locally, we were called in at that point,” she stated. Since then, they have held an Orlando Speaks event in each of the city’s districts. Mayor Buddy Dyer commented that there has been a great give-and-take between residents and police when this workshop is held.
The campus coordinator for the Peace and Justice Institute at Valencia’s Lake Nona Campus, Jennifer Keefe, mentioned he holds an occasion at the campus called “Coffee with a Cop.” She invites a bunch of officers over to casually hang around and talk to students. “It’s not an us-versus-them world, it’s just an us… . Sometimes, I think people get intimidated by a uniform. We all want to be heard and understood,” stated Keefe.
A local community member can support the movement by liking the Peace and Justice Institute on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/valenciapeaceandjustice. One can also become a member of the organization by calling 407-582-2291 or contact Rachel Allen at Rallen39@valenciacollege.edu.