Area women meet to discuss violence

Published 12:05 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — A group of women gathered in the Hurley Room of the Rowan Public Library on Wednesday not to discuss books, but how they could listen to one another and come up with possible solutions to the violence that has plagued minorities and police as of late.

The meeting was organized by the Human Praxis Institute — a Salisbury-based human relations firm that specializes in strategic planning, racial and equity training and mediation services — and other partners.

Facilitator Alvena “Al” Heggins, founder of the Human Praxis Institute, said this is a grassroots effort to bring women together to address the deaths.

She said this meeting was sparked by the string of tragic events including the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, both by law enforcement. After the deaths, a gunman ambushed Dallas police during a peaceful protest, killing five. On Sunday, a gunman killed three Baton Rouge, La. police officers.

Nearly two dozen women attended the two-hour meeting, which was made up of retired law enforcement, teachers, doctors, military veterans, students, grandmothers, social workers, and artists from different racial backgrounds. Some of the women were natives of Salisbury and others were from the surrounding area, including High Point.

Heggins asked each woman to pair up. One person told the other “you are” while the partner described themselves in 30 seconds with one word. Some partners responded that they were doctors, mothers, or teachers, but as the 30 seconds drew to a close, it was harder to describe themselves.

“You run out of stuff to say. Isn’t that the problem we face right now in our country,” Heggins asked.

“There is a disproportionate number of African American males who are dying. Those African American males and police officers were somebody’s child,” she said.

Heggins said one of the most important things is “we need to hear each other.”

She shared the meeting via a live stream on her Facebook social media page where about 100 people joined in to watch.

During the meeting, Heggins had the women break up into groups of five and look at statistics from area law enforcement that showed how many people were stopped in a year time frame and categorized by race, sex and ethnicity.

The facts were alarming to the women, who saw a high percentage of African American men and women pulled over during traffic stops. But the consensus among the women was there should be more details from the statistics, because they wanted to know the rest of the story behind the stops.

Tiffany Miller, who is a former Salisbury Police officer and executive director of a Florida nonprofit, said all police are not bad, not all black people are bad and not all white people are against black people.

“It’s time to renew our mindset. We forget about these state and local elections,” Miller said.

She said the local elections are where it matters to have your voice heard.

Deborah Hirst said she has a son, and hearing about the meeting made her want to get involved as a mother.

“There’s so much strength in women — untapped strength,” she said.

Jean Brooks was at artist Whitney Peckman’s gallery recently, and she heard about the meeting.

“I’m passionate about what’s going on today,” said Brooks, a former Henderson Independent High School teacher.

“This is a great start. Communication is the key to everything,” Brooks said.

Brooks’ 18-year-old granddaughter Zipporah Johnson said she used to feel as if the police were the enemy until she became better informed.

Taliyah Johnson, 12, Brooks’ other granddaughter, said she’d love to see more young people attend future meetings. She said it would be beneficial for young people to hear from other young people.

Judy McDaniel read about the meeting in the paper and wanted to be in attendance.

“It’s a great start,” she said of the meeting.

“Women can change the world. They think more with their heart,” McDaniel said.

She said change has to start somewhere “the baseline, with the mothers.”

Isha Holmes was invited by meeting organizer and facilitator Heggins.

“What I see is anger. You hear no one taking responsibility for their actions. The parents are not taking responsibility for their children,” Holmes said.

Children have no respect for authority, she said, or fear of authority.

She said she’s learned a lot from all the social media messages and news accounts of police-involved shootings.

“All of the snippets, 30-second clips, do not tell the whole story,” Holmes said.

“In order to address all of this, we will need to have the whole story,” she said.

Heggins said she was worried people wouldn’t talk, but was pleasantly surprised that they engaged each other in positive dialogue.

“This is where we are starting, looking at the disproportionate death of black men and police,” she said.

Heggins said she hopes to have future meetings on a monthly basis.

The women didn’t get to talk much about solutions at this first meeting, but something was ignited in them that will lead to future conversations about how to exact change in the world, starting with one community.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.