I thought long and hard about responding to the online dissent regarding the upcoming BlackJoy Project event being affiliated with the FBI. Of the many things I would like to say, the most important is this – I get it. Like the commentators, I cannot forget how law enforcement has been used as a tool of deadly aggression against Black people – my people. There is no justification for the unwarranted interruption of our collective progress by racist uniformed men and women who magnified this country’s oppressive nature in the treatment of Black people. There is no other way to see this. We have been and remain overpoliced and underserved, and change is not swift enough to rectify the mishandling of justice. Given this knowledge and understanding, why then would my Black Joy Project host such an event?
The BlackJoy Project is hosting this event for three reasons. First, because I’ve done what many are demanding right now. In 1993, a national security company hired me to oversee a program that brought 116-armed security guards with police powers to patrol ten multifamily housing communities in Boston. In 1995, MassHousing hired me as the Director of Public Safety to manage all of their special policing programs, including 250 special police officers.
Truthfully, when I first started in 1993, I believed enforcement was the answer, but I realized most of the people we were locking up looked like me. With the residents’ help, and leadership, coupled with many community partners, I flipped my five-million-dollar Public Safety budget from 100% enforcement to 10% percent enforcement, 85% prevention, intervention, reentry, and community engagement support. I will not name the hundreds of programs we have been able to design, help and sustain with those funds. However, every day over the last eight months of protest, I wonder what would have happened to someone if I did not have the placement, power, and perspective as a Black man to make real changes and add safeguards to protect my people.
Secondly, every year I receive emails from black college students asking me to help them get an internship with the FBI. When I discussed having this event with family and friends, I was informed of current dreams of becoming an agent and dreams deferred or crushed because they didn’t see a pathway or have the network or access to a career in law enforcement.
The last reason is to live up to our commitment to being a space where the multifaceted ways Black people aspire and inspire in the world are explored and highlighted. Any profession that impacts Black people’s lives is one where we must be represented by our people who are proactive in protecting and securing the rights and privileges we have long been denied. Dismantling racist policy requires agents of change in every sector of society. Representation does not merely matter; when used correctly, it makes a lasting difference. This event is a space where the invited FBI agents of color will share how they grapple with abhorrent truths and still choose to assist in building a more just society as members of law enforcement.
The dialogue that has ensued is warranted and necessary. Interrogating the meaning behind actions and protecting the things we hold dear as a culture fortifies our movement for justice, equity, and equality. I believe that this event will be transforming and enlightening. I am trusting that those who are meant to participate will be there. I am grateful to all of you for this opportunity to grow. This too, I count as joy.