Building bridges between communities and law enforcement often happens over time, through one-on-one discussions between individuals with different experiences and viewpoints.
To help start a discussion that promotes better understanding and empathy toward others, Life Aid Research Institute, the Los Angeles Dodgers, RISE and the Los Angeles Police Protective League hosted an in-person and virtual town hall on November 10.
The VOICE Project town hall started with an activity in which participants ranked imaginary people based on whose lives they would want to step into, after receiving information on these individuals’ backgrounds.
The second half of the town hall featured a panel with community members, law enforcement leaders, sports figures and military veterans, including Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
This year, Life Aid has hosted town halls throughout the country. One town hall in Alabama focused on the topic of confederate symbols and racism.
During the Los Angeles town hall held at the Youth Athletic League in Compton, participants talked about issues impacting the Los Angeles community.
One of the questions asked if the glass is half empty or full when it comes to the relationship between the police and community members in Los Angeles.
Life Aid founder and CEO John Wordin said with the town halls, participants can have open dialogues to share their perspectives, which can lead to difficult discussions on topics such as race relations.
Wordin found the discussion between community and law enforcement leaders to be especially impactful.
“Those community activists have never sat down in front of the police and been able to say the glass is half empty. For them, that was very empowering. They could say it straight to their face,” Wordin said.
Wordin said the town halls begin these conversations, but it takes work to create change.
“It was the first step. All of a sudden, the problem is not solved. We’re on the path. Now, we have a dialogue going,” Wordin said.
Each town hall is followed by an action step, in which participants commit to having further conversations or bringing change in their communities. The Alabama town hall, for example, led to the creation of a clinic and scholarships for inner-city cheerleaders.
“We are solution oriented. We don’t do these town halls just to talk. There has to be an action step after,” Wordin said.
Wordin plans to host another town hall with community members and law enforcement leaders in December in Los Angeles.
In honor of Veterans Day, Life Aid and the Dodgers sent care packages with Dodgers gear and letters of thanks to soldiers in the 40th Infantry Division in Guantanamo Bay and Africa.
The Dodgers and Life Aid have worked together on events such as Veterans Day batting practices.
The Dodgers are part of an advisory group, created through the Play Equity Fund, which looks at issues of racial and social justice in sports.
Naomi Rodriguez, the Dodgers’ vice president of external affairs and community relations, said it is important for the Dodgers organization to be part of community conversations that promote understanding and bring change in different ways.
“When you see someone like Dave Roberts listening, caring, paying attention, wanting to understand and participating in some solution finding, it is very powerful. It’s a great example for many people in our community,” Rodriguez said.
“Using our platform to create positive change in our community is very powerful. Sports have always had that ability to bring people together. We are a city of two major championships. Using our platforms to have these conversations, to look at our community, to look at ways that we can improve, to look at our own organization and see the things that we can do to create change in the social and racial justice space is powerful and important.”
Rodriguez said events such as the town hall can expose participants to other viewpoints and allow them to better be able to work together.
“We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can find some common ground, move forward and learn from each other. I learned a lot just hearing the different perspectives, hearing from law enforcement and from community members. Some of this is very deeply rooted in experience, in pain, in upbringing. I think really listening, having empathy, understanding and finding common ground is very powerful,” Rodriguez said.