Published on: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Hear the drum beat for unity

By Apryl Motley

If you were anywhere near 7071 Carroll Avenue on Sept. 25 around 4:30 p.m., you probably heard the kick-off block party for the Unity in the Community initiative before you saw it.

After brief remarks from Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart, the event co-organizers, and other public officials, community members were immediately engaged in a drum circle led by Katy Gaughan. They played a variety of hand-held “instruments” or cheered others on as they did.

Just a few feet away, some families explored the moon bounce with their little ones or got their faces painted by Karen Holiday. Others tie-dyed Unity in the Community t-shirts or enjoyed burgers grilled compliments of TPPD or sampled free cheesecake.

This scene was very different from the images of protests – and sometimes unrest – in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa that had been broadcast into so many residents’ homes in the week leading up to the event. Unity in the Community organizers could not have anticipated, but only hoped, that this wouldn’t be the backdrop against which they kicked off their efforts.

Before beginning her remarks, Mayor Stewart asked the group assembled to observe a moment of silence to “reflect on the lives of those touched by violence, the lives lost too young, and those who run towards the danger” to keep communities safe. “There’s been a lot of pain and violence,” she said, “and we feel that frustration and anger here in Takoma Park.”

Stewart believes that community members engaging in conversations with one another, where they talk honestly and openly about their feelings, is critical to building better relationships. To that end, she challenged attendees to break out of their comfort zones and spend time talking with someone they didn’t know. “I am going to do it too,” Stewart emphasized. “I know this community came out today to build better relationships.”

“Talk to people, ask questions, and get to know each other,” encouraged Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg. “This is a unique experience in this community. And police officers are a part of the community, especially in Takoma Park.”

“This type of conversation where the police interact with the community is so critical,” said Maryland Delegate Will Smith during his remarks. “We have to get to know each other, so we can develop strong community bonds before a major incident happens. We can head this off.”

TPPD Captain Tyrone Collington echoed those sentiments. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, “but I was optimistic. It means a lot to see youth here. It’s important for the police and youth to engage in positive interactions with each other, so pat yourselves on the back for coming out.”

Meagan Murphy, co-owner of Capital City Cheesecake, which hosted the kickoff event, told attendees, “I stand here as a mom, and we’ve had to have a lot of difficult conversations at our house.” Murphy felt like there were many questions that she couldn’t answer alone and posed the question about what kinds of resources were available in Takoma Park one morning while making Mayor Stewart’s coffee. And the idea for Unity in Community evolved from that conversation.

“Communities can answer these questions together,” Murphy said. “We can participate in mending, healing, and strengthening our community. It’s not about picking sides.”

And with that, the drum beat began, symbolic of what happens when a community circles itself around an issue and decides to build stronger relationships.

This article appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.