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'Awesome' Winner And Rickards Student Wants Better Relations Between Students And Police

Awesome Tallahassee

As Tallahassee grapples with a spate of violent crime, law enforcement agencies have targeted predominantly black neighborhoods. Now one Rickards High School student's push to open the lines between black students and police, has earned her a $1,000 grant for an “awesome” idea.

Zenani D. Johnson is the Student Body President of Rickards High School. She wants to attend the University of West Florida, and is currently researching the attitudes of local communities toward law enforcement.

“We saw a lot of issues arising in our community about how youth interact with citizens and other law enforcement, so we wanted to make a change and bring a difference," she said. "So we contacted NOBLE, they came to the school, and from there it started.”

Credit Paula Deboles-Johnson
Rickards High School Student Body President Zenani D. Johnson

That was last year. And the "it" she's talking about is a program that brought the  National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives to Rickards for a day. Officers talked with sophomores on topics like  knowing your rights, and what to do if you’re pulled over. Zenani says it was mind-blowing for students to have a positive interaction with officers:

“The thing that was most noticeable was how open the kids where when receiving the information for the police officers in the way they referenced them. They [officers] were no longer the “po-po” or things of that nature. They were, 'oh, that’s the police officer'. Or it was, ‘hey, Mr. Officer', and things of that nature.”    

Tension between predominantly black neighborhoods and police is not new. High profile shootings of black men by police officers have dominated headlines for the past year, and here in Tallahassee, an increased police presence in  black neighborhoods has made some residents wary. But Zenani believes it doesn’t have to be that way. To bridge the gap between communities and police, Zenani wants to bring NOBLE to other schools.

“I want to make sure each individual feels safe and comfortable when they’re stopped or in contact with one [police officer]. One of the main focus points we had was explaining how law enforcement feels when they’re stopping someone, because law enforcement, they feel some kind of way too. But our goal is to make sure everyone knows their rights, and know that 99 percent of the cops are good—it’s that one percent that may not have the best of intentions, but that’s how it is for everybody," she said.

The money comes from the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation—an organization that gives money to community projects deemed “awesome”.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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