After a tense summer that saw multiple police-related killings of blacks and ambush attacks on officers around the country, plenty of Americans have felt pretty helpless, or paralyzed by all the violence.
For Fayetteville residents Jeremy Clark and Kamron Phillips, however, the turmoil they saw in other communities has inspired them into action.
Clark and Phillips recently formed a new organization called Not My City, a community service-based group aimed at reducing the anxieties and tensions between police and the black community in Fayetteville.
“We don’t have that problem here in Fayetteville right now, but that could change in a blink of an eye,” Clark said. “In the wake of all the tragedy around the country, we wanted to do something to make sure that this doesn’t happen here.”
The organization’s first order of business was a meeting with city leaders, Chamber of Commerce officials, members of the Northwest Arkansas Black Caucus, and other local stakeholders to begin a dialogue and brainstorm ideas on how to make sure that their community continues to be a safe place for everyone.
That meeting was well attended, and Clark and Phillips realized pretty quickly that there were others in the community who shared their vision.
“We believe we can’t do anything to change what’s going on in Los Angeles and New York, but we can make an impact here,” Clark said. “Change starts in your community, if you can get people in your community on board, that’s how it happens.”
Getting to work
Not My City is currently working in conjunction with the Fayetteville Police Department and city leaders on a number of events and initiatives designed to bring the community together.
The first is called NWA CommUNITY Cares, and it’s set for July 30 at Gulley Park. That event was organized by local resident Casey Apperson, who was also concerned about the recent trend of nationwide violence.
Apperson, who operates a Facebook group called Nice-US, put together the NWA CommUNITY Cares event with a lot of the same goals that Not My City has in mind. Apperson said he hopes the event will “bring our peace officers and our community together to create an even stronger bond” and “make sure that the racial divide engulfing our country does not ever end up happening here.”
The NWA CommUNITY Cares event will begin at noon, and will include several guest speakers including Clark and Phillips, along with Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, State Representative Greg Leding, Brandon Kennedy of Cross Church, local musician Papa Rap, and local law enforcement officers. The event will also include music by DJ Anna Huynh and singer Caleb Ryan Martin, and local food truck, Tyler’s Craft Barbecue.
Not My City will also be involved in Fayetteville Police Department’s National Night Out on Aug. 2 at Bryce Davis Park. That event will include free hot dogs, chips, and drinks, along with outdoor games and other activities at the park that evening from 5-8 p.m. Several Fayetteville Police Department officers will be on hand at the event, and everyone is invited to attend.
Fayetteville police Sgt. Craig Stout said the FPD is thankful for the work Clark and Phillips are doing with Not My City.
“There was mutual interest in getting together and starting this dialogue, and we’re glad to be working with them on our National Night Out event,” Stout said. “Getting out and getting to know the community is what this event is all about.”
More initiatives in the works
Not My City also recently launched a school supply drive to collect and distribute needed items for underprivileged kids in Fayetteville. Drop-off locations include any First Security Bank, the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, Core Taproom in Fayetteville, and Wes’ Barbecue.
They’ll also sponsor a local child for nights out at local restaurants and at upcoming Razorback football games, he said.
“We want to give these kids a chance to do some things they might never get a chance to do,” Clark said. “I had some of those opportunities as a kid through the Augustine Foundation, Ozark Guidance, the Boys and Girls Club. I think those experiences helped keep me on the straight and narrow, and we want more local kids to be able to experience that.”
Soon, Not My City is planning to collaborate with the police department and the Fayetteville Government Channel to film an instructional video on how to behave at a traffic stop.
“That video is for everyone, but I want to reach the young black males I grew up with to make sure they know how to act in those situations,” Clark said. “I just want to diffuse the tension there could be, and teach people that if you have to, just go to jail peacefully, and live to fight your day in court rather than at that traffic stop.”
Clark said that though the organization formed as a response to the string of violent incidents that occurred recently, he believes that it can take on a life of its own.
The group has begun seeking non-profit status, and plan to continue to meet on the first Tuesday of every month at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, and continue the dialogue on how to make Fayetteville a safer place for everyone.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the black community, but we also want to work with other organizations to help them get what they want done, like Meals on Wheels or Seven Hills.”
“We’re going to have a presence at their events, even if it’s just to say ‘We’re here to help lift stuff,’” he said. “I just want to make a difference.”