What is the Divided Community Project? Winston-Salem police working with local leaders bring community together

In Black and White

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — When you talk to people who have been around for a long time, they’ll tell you the issues we’re facing today regarding race and violence in our communities aren’t new. But there’s a lot we can do about them when we work together.

The Winston-Salem Police Department has been working with leaders in the community to do just that. It brought in some extra help to make it happen.

“I love Winston-Salem and I want Winston-Salem to be the best community it can be for all the people who share life here together,” said Pastor Nathan Parrish.

That’s why he signed up to spend a couple of days surrounded by other leaders from all walks of life in Winston-Salem.

“I know that, while it is a great community now, we have some serious challenges, problems and issues,” he said.

“It’s called the Divided Community Project and it’s not because there’s great division. But it’s about bringing folks together with differences of opinions on how do we unite the community,” explained Assistant Police Chief William Penn Jr.

Penn says his department wants to be part of the solution. That’s why they formed this group to work with the U.S. Department of Justice on the Divided Community Project. The session we sat in on was scheduled before the shooting at Mount Tabor High School. But that tragedy reminded everyone here how urgent this work is.

“So the time to have conversations about police procedures or police tactics, the community’s role in solving crime, those conversations need to happen before those incidents with level heads and folks understanding that we come to the table with the same goal in mind: a safer community,” said Penn.

“We have to have a broad sense of neighbor and neighborhood in this community,” Parrish added. “You can’t wall yourself off and say because that’s not my part of town or those aren’t my kids, so it doesn’t matter.”

He leads the Peace Haven Baptist Church.

“I’ve been working for quite a while with a lot of people in this community around issues of division in our community along lines of race, ethnicity, and economics which are historical and generational in Winston-Salem. And there’s a lot of woundedness in this community that goes back multi generations. So those become issues of trust.”

He was part of small group that met in June to figure out how to get to the heart of the problems.

“We began to look at what does it look like to mediate conflict, what does it look like to work on dispute resolution.”

He came back to be part of this larger group.

“We have to build some bridges and come together and say how can we work in accord for something that’s larger than our own personal self-interest, to realize our personal self-interest is bound up in the interest of the whole,” he said.

“This is 2021. Mobility is not an obstacle anymore,” Assistant Chief Penn added. “If we have an issue anywhere in Winston-Salem, we have an issue everywhere in Winston-Salem. And it just doesn’t stop at Winston-Salem.”

Both say seeing so many people ready to put in work to make change happen makes them hopeful.

“If the community, regardless of race, gender, creed, or whatever differences we have, believes in each other, trusts one another, that’s a better community, period,” said Penn.

“We’re not here to fix anything,” said Parrish. “We’re here to get a plan that invites other people into the cooperative and collaborative work of making this city the best it can be for all the people that are sharing life here together.”

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