Mindful Civic Leadership Program brings community and police together – a model for the nation

By Canisha Bell

The Mindful Civic Leadership Program, designed to bring Black community members and police officers together to build mindfulness skills, launched a second run March 27. The next session will begin April 10. The program is part of the Mindful Flint Initiative, led by the Crim Fitness Foundation. 

Graphic source: The Crim Foundation

Theresa Roach, associate director of the Initiative, said the program aims to “build the skills of mindful leadership, engage in a mindful dialogue and practice communication strategies  around the future of policing in our community.” 

It is a repeat of a pilot program begun in March, 2022.  The sessions begin with a six-week mindfulness based program online to learn techniques to calm the mind, reduce stress and have mindful conversations.  

That portion of the program will begin with Flint’s Black residents and Flint police officers meeting separately in their respective “affinity groups.” After that initial phase, participants will meet with police officers to discuss policing in the Flint community. 

Flint mindfulness initiative used as a model for the nation

This course is the first of its kind in the United States with Flint being studied as a model for other cities around the country, Roach said. The Crim is partnering with experts at Brown University, Washington State University, and Mindful Badge to design and facilitate the course in Flint.

The program is free for Flint residents thanks to Flint ReCAST (Resiliency in Communities after Stress and Trauma), a program of the City of Flint and the Greater Flint Health Coalition.  ReCAST envisions the greater Flint community working together in ways that lead to improved behavioral health, empowered community residents, reductions in trauma, and sustained community change.

Organizers aim to offer the Mindful Civic Leadership Program once a year.  “Our intention is to do this every year, but you know, it is going to be up to funding… It is our intention to work with the city and ReCAST to be able to offer this annually,” Roach said.

“Hopeful” Black residents and police officers can build relationships

“I’m hopeful that during this program, Black residents and police officers can begin to build relationships with one another and mindful leadership skills, “ Roach explained.

Meeting separately creates a safe space for each group before we get into more challenging discussions,”  Roach explained.  “And it’s important that each group has an opportunity to learn about mindfulness and begin developing a personal practice before diving into potentially difficult conversations.

Having a shared language and beginning to develop more emotional awareness will support deep, meaningful conversations about policing in our community. The participants will meet once a week for the six weeks, building their understanding of the impact of stress and learn new strategies to navigate it. They will enhance their own mindful leadership skills and the ability to have difficult conversations to promote positive individual and systems change.” Roach describes.

Facilitating the six-week course for the Flint community members is Trymaine Gaither, a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher who completed his training at Brown University. 

He is a national trainer in mindfulness-based anti-racism, self-awareness, contemplative pedagogy, and self compassion. Gaither said he  is committed to cultivating conscious communities, organizations, and human beings. 

He has collaborated with corporate and non-profit organizations to promote civic engagement, grassroots mobilization, and social justice initiatives. The “Know Your Rights” Initiative, a city-wide community-based initiative informing marginalized groups of their rights within policing practices was led by Gaither.

“Pull back the layers and focus on the healing”

This program is an opportunity for the community and law enforcement to pull back the layers and focus on the healing that needs to occur collectively. It’s an opportunity for everyone to see the suffering in our midst, on both sides.” Gaither answered in an email regarding the benefits of this program to the Flint community overall.

Social worker and life coach, Dr. Tiffany Quinn of Flushing, learned of the 2022 pilot program via email and was intrigued. Having already had a meditation practice, she said she felt being a participant in the program could help her deepen that practice. 

“The benefits of being able to reduce anxiety, calm my mind, and begin the practice of meditation that aligns with my values,” is what Dr. Quinn said attracted her to this effort in the first place.

Information about the 2022 pilot program was posted last year on the department’s bulletin board and when Sgt Deon Smith of the  Genesee County Sheriff’s Department,   saw the posting he said he knew he needed to take part in it. 

Sergeant Deon Smith with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and Theresa Roach, Associate Director of Mindful Flint Initiative. (Photo by Canisha Bell)

“Your capacity to lead is predicated on your capacity to grow,” Smith said.  “As a young man growing up in the city of Flint, I understood I serve a purpose much bigger than myself and it comes with an extreme level of responsibility. 

“And to really gain the trust of the community you have to stay sharp individually,”  he added.  “As a law enforcement official I see things that people will probably never see in their lifetime, and so for me I understand that I am human, I’m no robot, I’m a person and I deal with things in my mind on a daily basis that I must continue to filter out so that I can stay sharp for the community members and the citizens that I serve. I saw the flier and said what a perfect opportunity to add more tools to your toolbox.”

After the six weeks,  both groups will come together for a day of dialogue strengthening the relationships between members of the Black community and police officers serving in Flint.

Describing the “day of the dialogue,” last year,  Quinn recalls, ““It was very emotional.  Mindfulness is such a powerful tool, they (the police officers) were very transparent and open. We were able to connect with the officers and I feel like they felt they were able to connect to the community that they serve.” 

Connecting with the Flint community was phenomenal, according to Smith, “It allowed community members to share what was on their hearts, and in order to connect with people’s minds, you have to connect with their hearts. We had some candid yet tough conversations about policing in Black communities and then policing in general, it allowed law enforcement officers to truly understand. 

“You know we have to seek to understand in order to be understood, so if I can understand my brother, I can understand my sister, if I can understand my young man, or my young woman, now I’m able to make, you know, better decisions based off of knowing what this community culture is, you know, and what this community needs as opposed to just doing things status quo or the way I see fit, just running call to call,”  Smith added. 

Registration for the 2023 program is closed;  however, there is a waitlist for residents for 2024. Anyone interested in being placed on the waitlist for next year can email mindfulness@crim.org or go to https://crim.org/mindfulness.

EVM reporter Canisha Bell can be reached at canishajbell@gmail.com.

Author: Tom Travis

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