KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One week ago, a sniper gunned down police officers in downtown Dallas in retaliation for separate police shootings that killed two black men.
Amidst the aftermath, a national organization rooted right here in Kansas City is promoting peace and understanding.
For more than 25 years, the OK (Our Kids) Program has set out to improve relationships between police and young black men. It’s a mission the organization's leaders believe is now more important than ever.
“I think that it’s lack of trust, lack of understanding, and when you have those two things together, you have fear,” explained Darron Story, the national executive director of the OK Program. “You have fear on both sides.”
Garron Carter, a Kansas City police officer who serves as the coordinator for the KCMO chapter of the OK Program, agreed.
“There's some sense of distrust that exists and that`s something that we have to overcome on both sides of the table,” Carter said.
Carter said he sat in disbelief watching recent news coverage. First, as two black men lost their lives at the hands of police, and then as a sniper gunned down officers in Dallas as retaliation.
“It`s hard,” he said. “It makes my heart bleed. You would hope this time in 2016, in society that we wouldn`t be having these issues.”
Carter is now playing his part to promote peace by helping lead the KCMO chapter of the OK Program, in which he serves as a mentor, leader and friend to young black men in his community.
“We`re not there to harm them,” he explained. “Our job is there to help them.”
Story said beginning to bridge the gap between police and the black community starts with building trust and understanding.
“Getting those kids to understand that law enforcement, they`re not evil, inherently evil,” he said. “We love and care about them and we want to show them that that relationship can be totally different than what we`ve seen over the last week.”
In the OK Program, that means openly having those tough conversations about race and recent violence.
“They’ve talked about, ‘Why is this happening?’” Carter said of some recent conversations with his students. “Some questions specifically, you know, ‘Why do the police hate us?’ and we talk about that, that the police don`t.”
Added Story, “We need to stop talking at one another and start talking to one another. And that’s what we do. We believe that our program allows that to happen, allows that freedom to discuss these issues openly without fear of retribution or being offended by anything.”
“We have to talk about these issues with candor and not be afraid to talk about race in a constructive way.”
Story hopes working with kids across the country will hopefully create a better tomorrow.
“It`s going to take us all to fix this,” he said, “but we have to start doing our part in our community and bringing this to the forefront.”
The OK Program is active in several school districts across the KC metro and in a handful of cities across the U.S.