The Youth & Blue Engagement Project

Images of Youth & Blue students on set.

We are very excited to share with you all that we have been a part of a very incredible and very important project: The Youth & Blue (Y&B) Engagement Project. This groundbreaking project is designed to facilitate positive relationships between secondary students with police officers who serve the City of Charlottesville by inciting discussions that allow everyone to be heard. The goal of this project is neither to excuse or justify actions by the police nor to remove all responsibility from the people with which officers interact. Youth & Blue aims to enhance understanding, improve communications, and encourage a constructive and productive working relationship between CPD officers and the residents those officers serve.

Our collaboration with Youth & Blue this winter serves as the organization’s pilot program. They intend to take this project to a national level and get more cities involved. More cities, means more collaboration, and more change on a much much larger scale! A huge part of our mission at Light House Studio is inspiring young change-makers and giving them a voice. When presented with this project by UVa Associate Professor of Public Policy, Brian Williams, we were ecstatic.

On January 1st, 10 students from Charlottesville’s City of Promise came to Light House Studio with the mindset to make a difference in their communities. After filling up on sandwiches from Market Street, the students received their task: create a scenario in which police officers would interact with a minority teenager. Immediately, the energy in the room shifted from anxious excitement to cold hesitance as the students realized they would be talking about negative interactions they have experienced with local police officers…with a Charlottesville Police Officer, Chris, at the table. Sensing how uncomfortable the students had become, the officer quickly reassured the students that he would not be there if he also did not want to make a change. Finally, the first student told their story, and from there past experiences flooded the room. By the day’s end, the students created their scenario, wrote their script, and assigned what their roles would be on set. We quickly realized the true, genuine impact these young people would make in our community. On January 2nd, despite obstacles imposed by the unpredictability of Charlottesville weather, 10 children from some of Charlottesville’s most underserved communities made a video to make an impact, and that is pretty amazing.

Right now, the film is still being edited but we will gladly keep you all posted on the final project which will be presented at a Youth & Blue conference in Charlottesville in April. Exact date and time is tbd, but the students who created this project, along with Officer Chris, will be holding a community discussion. All are encouraged to come.

Brian Williams

Curious about the brains behind this inspirational project? We asked Youth & Blue Director, Brian Williams, a few questions about this program and what it means to him. Check it out below:

What inspired you to start this program?
I wanted to take advantage of the national narrative, that is quite negative, regarding police-community relations. Our program – the Youth & Blue – is a listening and learning exchange that brings together a couple of officers from the Charlottesville Police Department with some ‘tweens and teens affiliated with the City of Promise who attend Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High School. The purpose of the exchange is to facilitate discussions that surface different perspectives or lived experiences of participants, and how these perspectives and experiences impact what they perceive, which is their reality.
Based upon my research, a primary source of conflict in terms of police-community relations is the innate inability for a person to see and appreciate things from a perspective that differs from their own. The Youth & Blue was developed to leverage perspective taking as a strategy to improve empathy and lessen social conflict, thereby strengthening relationships between the ‘tweens and teens and the police.
The goals of the program are to enhance understanding, improve communications, and encourage a constructive and productive relationship between CPD officers and these and other students that these officers serve. In essence, the Youth & Blue is a bridge building endeavor that takes a proactive, yet coercive approach to build and enhance police-community relations instead of the more traditional reactive approach that often arises after negative police-citizen encounters and interactions.

What are the next steps for the Youth and Blue Project?
In terms of next steps, I would like to see if some of the ‘tweens and teens in our program would consider serving on a neighborhood youth advisory board. The City of Charlottesville has a youth advisory council that advises the City on public policies and professional practices. I would love to see something like a City of Promise Youth Advisory Board that is similar to the City’s Youth Advisory Council but would focus its attention to policies and practices that directly impact the Westhaven community. It could be a decentralized, neighborhood focused sounding board for the City of Charlottesville. But it ultimately depends upon the youth involved in this project to decide if this is something that they would like to do.

A large focus in creating this project was the building bridges, ie. facilitating healthy and open conversation between groups who generally do not have positive interactions with one another. How can the larger Charlottesville community get involved to build bridges?
This is a piloted project that I hope will be replicated in other communities and neighborhoods in Charlottesville. This project is time intensive. It consists of multiple phases: forming, storming, norming, performing and transforming. To me, it is a labor of love. If there are others who would like to see this replicated, I encourage them to contact me. But it is important that they come into this with not only their hearts and minds open, but their eyes as well.

How did you hear about Light House Studio?
I heard about Light House Studio from Mindy Goodall, the Executive Director of the Charlottesville Police Foundation. Being relatively new to Charlottesville, I shared with her my vision and she suggested that I get in contact with Deanna.

How was your experience working with Light House Studio during Youth & Blue’s pilot program?
I have really enjoyed the experience working with Light House Studio. The technical expertise is matched by the great interpersonal skills of those we have worked with. The hands-on approach you take to teach the youngsters, as well as old guys like me, the nuances of filmmaking is amazing. From conception to production, you guys have been excellent.

By Chelsea Woodfolk.