Black police officers in Saint Paul are building relationships with the community they serve by donating free backpacks and haircuts to kids in preparation for the new school year.
The Barbers & Backpacks event took place on August 30 at the Conway Recreation Center and was sponsored by The National Black Police Association’s (NBPA) Minnesota chapter.
The event was a great opportunity for officers to give back to the community and inspire a future generation of young Black police officers.
A multitude of officers, deputies, firefighters, first responders and barbers volunteered at the event, handing out backpacks and school supplies to kids and talking with them about their jobs.
During the event, NBPA members distributed over 550 backpacks to kids, along with school supplies and free haircuts offered by four local barber volunteers.
Volunteers also went to an elementary school in Minneapolis the following day to hand out more supplies.
Officers took the time to build positive relationships with community members and leave a lasting and positive impression on young attendants.
Saint Paul Police Sergeant Antwan Denson passed a microphone around to kids to ask questions to officers who were gathered outside the center.
10-year-old Ahlaan Isaak asked, “What’s it like to drive a police car?”
“The seats are hard, so it’s not luxury,” Denson joked.
Ahlaan and other kids then went to see a squad car parked nearby.
Maplewood Officer Isabel Sanchez, who drove the car, was asked why she became a police officer.
“I told her that when I was little, a lot of police officers would go to my home because my home wasn’t the safest,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes, they were rude to us, and so I wanted to become a police officer because I wanted people to feel safe coming up to me because I spoke their language or I looked like them.”
Sanchez is a member of the National Latino Peace Officers Association’s Minnesota chapter.
Denson also gave the mic to officers at the event to ask them how it made them feel to help out.
“It makes me feel hopeful,” one answered.
“Hopeful — that we can all be seen in a better light than what’s being presented,” Denson said.
One NBPA member, Officer Lorenzo Lamb, hopes to save money to pay for a scholarship for a student in the future after he himself was awarded a $1,000 scholarship by the organization when he was in college.
NBPA’s Minnesota chapter President Brad Chin said that it’s especially important for young people to see officers who look like them and are involved in the community during a time when police are struggling to recruit new officers.
Chin, a Saint Paul officer himself, believes that Black police officers are underrepresented in Minnesota law enforcement. He estimated that there are only 250 Black police officers out of 10,600 licensed officers in the state.
Indeed, the Saint Paul Police Department told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that only 7% are Black in its 550-officer department.
Rae Marin, a Maplewood officer and NBPA vice president, said she decided to join law enforcement after the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony police officer. She finished school right around the time of George Floyd’s death.
“We had this major freeze that set us back, and now we’re rebuilding,” she said of the past few years.
According to the association, first responders paid for some of the school supplies out of their own pocket, and a handful of officers and firefighters volunteered even while off duty.
To pay for the backpacks and other services to host the event, the NBPA received funding from partners such as United Way, Target, Hiway Credit Union and other public safety agencies.