This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. on June 13.
Seventh-grader Cowin Campbell made a request Saturday during a prayer vigil and town hall meeting in downtown Hickory.
“All I ask is to have a fair chance to be all that I can be and not judged or gunned down because of the color of my skin,” Campbell, a student at Grandview Middle School, said during the vigil. He also read a poem.
The event was organized by The Hickory branch of the NAACP and held at Christ Lutheran Church.
Rabbi Dennis Jones of Temple Beth Shalom, Pastor Whit Malone of First Presbyterian Church, and Reverend Christy Lohr Sapp of St. Andrews Lutheran Church prayed. They called for all people to join together to fight the injustices and inequalities felt by black communities. They prayed for the black victims of police brutality, as well.
A town hall meeting followed the prayer vigil. Local leaders who answered questions from citizens included Hickory Mayor Hank Guess, Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant, Exodus Homes Executive Director Rev. Reggie Longcrier, Hickory Public School Board Vice Chairperson Ittiely Carson, Catawba Valley Health System Faith Community Nurse Carolyn Thompson.
The questions raised concerned law enforcement, public health, education, and other topics. Here are two examples of the questions and answers:
Other than words, what are some of the actions that are being taken to positively impact the relationship between police and the black community?
Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant:
“Legislation on policy reform that I have seen being discussed over the last two weeks is in the use of force policy, or what’s called the duty to intercede. In many places, there aren’t any policies that require officers who see another officer using excessive force to step in.
“We have a policy that requires officers to step in and stop excessive force, because that’s assault. We swore an oath to protect people, even if that means protecting people from one of our own. And we’ve had that policy for a number of years.
“The other thing is that the tactic used on George Floyd is a form of a carotid hold, a neck restraint. Our use of force policy bans neck restraints. That was already in place long before any of this.
“I’m amazed, just like many of you, when I hear about bigger cities who don’t have those policies in place, who don’t build relationships and who don’t have the community policing philosophy that we have.
“We have been doing community policing for years now -- ever since I’ve been on the force, for 27 years. It’s all I’ve ever known. You can’t wait for a tragedy to happen or something bad to happen to start building relationships.
“At the end of the day, I know that God has a plan. I’m part of that plan and all of you are part of that plan. And I don’t know what that plan is but I know that the question that is most important to me right now is, ‘What is God asking of me right now at this moment?’ I think if we all ask that question and answer it honestly, we will all end up in a better place. And I think we will.”
What is actively being done to provide opportunities to our young people in employment, internships, etc.?
NC Works Northwestern Regional Operations Director Felicia Culbreath-Setzer:
“We provide services for the constituents and citizens here. We provide training, monies and we have career advisors to help you decide what training you need and what we need to do to get you ready.
“We are here to provide a workforce system that will enable you to provide for your family. We look at trends, at what jobs are coming, what jobs are leaving and how you need to be prepared. We are used as a connector in the community college system. We work with employers, and we work with people who walk into our offices.
“We also work at the state level with policies that will help people coming back into the workforce from being incarcerated. We get employers to look at their workforce and ask themselves, ‘Are we diverse?’ Does it reflect their communities?
“We want employers to look at economics. We don’t want you to have to work five jobs to support your families. We want to ensure that wages are equitable for you to live a prosperous life, and we work with employers on their starting rates and salaries.
“We look at what’s best for you. But we have to hear what you want, what you are looking for. We have many career advisors that want to work with you in order to help you get where you want to be.”
Emily Willis is a general assignment reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.