'Unity' rap video of Fargo police, area youth has a bigger message
FARGO — Excitement rang throughout the Fargo Theatre Friday night as area youth took the stage after the premier of "Unity," a music video featuring Fargo Police Department's community trust officers, rap artist David Paul Brooks (DPB) and 21 students from Jefferson Elementary and Fargo South High School. The event aimed to raise awareness about the community trust program, its mission and efforts going forward.
"You can't just plug anybody into (a role) like this and hope it's successful," said Fargo Police Chief David Todd. "You have to pick the most smiley, engaging, big hearts. Michael Bloom and Matthew Niemeyer were the guys — hands down."
Working with DPB for Fargo United music events in the past, officer Bloom teamed up with the artist once again, spending nearly five hours writing lyrics over the phone. DPB made the beat in his home in Birmingham, Ala., and flew to Fargo to film the video in one day.
"There's a line that says 'Christian, Muslim — you must be dangerous,' but realistically some of the nicest people I know claim another faith," Bloom said. "We may have disagreements about faith, but on friendship we have an agreement: that we will care about each other and support each other in our community."
For the full experience, the kids starring in the video were given a limo ride to the event, an on-stage award ceremony and the opportunity to shine while participating in a live performance Friday night. In doing so, Bloom and Niemeyer aimed to inspire hope.
"We have an insane number of kids in our community that don't have hope," Bloom said. "They don't think they have a future. If you can even instill a little bit of hope they can start to build on, that right there changes everything."
The community trust program began in 2015 when Bloom and Niemeyer were hired through a grant from the COPS office under the U.S. Department of Justice. When hired as chief of police, Todd's vision was to re-build trust and transparency within the agency as well as outside the police department's doors. This opportunity allowed that chance.
"I don't ever want to be seen as an occupying force," Todd said. "I don't want to be apart from the community. I want to be a part of the community."
Working with youth was an obvious first step.
"People have a wide variety of opinions of the police based on different experiences," Niemeyer said. "(Adults) may not care if you help them or not, but the simple fact that you're helping kids works to make them look at things a little differently."
Since the program started, the officers have worked to engage area youth through events like Cocoa with a Cop, Fargo United, Charism C4 summer camp and partnerships with local entities and elementary schools, including Jefferson, Madison, Ed Clapp, Lincoln and Kennedy.
In connecting with at-risk youth, the police department encourages positive behavior, decreasing the likelihood of these individuals falling into the juvenile justice system or committing crime as adults.
"They're really trying to resolve community issues right at the ground floor — the level where it's cheaper," said Karen Kringlie, juvenile court director for the North Dakota Supreme Court. "I have to credit Chief Todd for having such foresight to not only look at the police department's job as solving crimes but really increasing public safety, starting with practical solutions with young people and preventing crime before it occurs."
Expanding a dream
Just last week, the Fargo Police Department received another grant which allows them to hire a third community trust officer. To create more visibility for their efforts, the department established a tax-deductible fund called Badges of Unity through the Impact Foundation on Monday, Nov. 27.
"They will operate almost like a mini-nonprofit so we can pay out invoices and they can do fundraising," said Deb Watne, donor impact director at Dakota Medical Foundation. "They operate under our charitable status which, in this case, is the Impact Foundation."
With the community's support in this fund, Bloom and Niemeyer hope to finance scholarships for children, provide after-school transportation to activities, expand summer camp efforts and reach the maximum number of youth by presenting Fargo United in a school assembly format in 2018.
"One of the things you can sense right away about a fund that's going to be successful is the passion of the people around the table," Watne said. "There's so much passion in those officers to change the environment of our communities and to unite people of all cultures and creeds. That, to me, was just stunning."
Readers can support Badges of Unity directly at impactgiveback.org/app/#/charity/799 or by going to impactgiveback.org and searching "Badges of Unity" on the "Donate" page.