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NKY NAACP Pres. Jerome Bowles says marches reflect need for hard conversations, systemic change

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

The horrific footage of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer has brought racial unrest in America. A flurry of protests and marches have taken place across the nation and the region.

Jerome Bowles

The shock and outrage are felt right here in Northern Kentucky, prompting the Northern Kentucky Branch of the NAACP to speak out and start the hard conversations to bring about systemic change.

Jerome Bowles, President of the Northern Kentucky NAACP, says about the George Floyd video, “It sent a shock wave around the nation, but it did not necessarily send a shock wave to the African American community, because we’ve been dealing with some of these issues for quite some time.”

Bowles says conversations about police-community relationships and police brutality have been ongoing, sometimes making progress.

“Then all of the sudden there is a national incident that occurs to remind us that we still have a long way to go in terms of these police-community relation challenges,” Bowles says in a steady tone yet with urgency.

About the racial unrest, Bowles says, “America has to take a good look at itself right now,” saying that this is a unique opportunity to ask where we want to be in the future.

“It’s all about responsibility to have that conversation. Not to run away from it. Not to lock ourselves down in our communities and say, ‘we don’t want to talk to those folks, because those issues don’t affect us, because we don’t have those people in our community,’” says Bowles.

Gathering for the march. (Photos by Maridith Yahl)

For America to maintain its greatness, he says, challenging and difficult conversations have to come.

Bowles was clear that the NAACP knows that not all police officers use brutality.

“We know there are law enforcement officers who get up every day to protect and serve anyone, no matter what race, color, nationality, or gender, he says. The NAACP is asking law enforcement officers to speak up and speak out about incidents they see their peers doing that make them uncomfortable.

“When you speak up and speak out, you are helping our society overcome systemic ills in terms of race, in terms of anything that’s preventing us from establishing better relationships with the law enforcers.”

It’s all about training, Bowles says. It’s a systemic issue that needs to be addressed across all sectors, not just law enforcement. Committees are formed to create diversity and inclusion policies, but Bowels reminds us that “every year is different.”

Policies and implementation of those policies need to be reviewed yearly to ensure they are current.

“You have to constantly review policy to make sure your policy is in tune to the current situation,” he says.

Since incidents of racism can happen at any time, Create a good plan, review it, and implement it. This can prevent a lot of future challenges.

The crowd was diverse and engaged.

Five-year plans are an issue as well, being created but not followed through, says Bowles.

Law enforcement, education, and financial institutions need to include and work together with African Americans and diverse communities on those plans of diversity and inclusion.

“Sometimes a majority community may have a committee, but they include everybody that looks like them on the committee, creating plans for a diverse community with no diverse input. That doesn’t help anybody.

“Diversity appreciation and empowerment has to be a continuation, it can’t be a plan that’s created and then set for five years, it has to be a continuous effort to improve the lives of everyone on a daily basis and sometimes we forget that.

“The hard work comes in terms of creating a long-term systematic diversity plan to bring this region together,” Bowles says.

The conversation to make a systemic change must move forward but action is the ultimate goal.

“We need action-oriented solutions, action-oriented goals, action-oriented driven solutions to these challenges,” says Bowles. He says 2020 will be judged by asking, “Did we take advantage? Did we use our collective minds to come together to put concrete policy and procedures and action-oriented job creation programs, action-oriented education programs, action-oriented programs to close the health gap, action-oriented programs to decrease the incarceration rates?”

Communities like Fort Mitchell, which aren’t very diverse, joining in the protests, “show that people are seizing this moment and saying that even though we don’t represent the race or ethnicity of George Floyd we still have a responsibility and we can do something to do to get involved,” Bowels says.

The marches are very much needed right now, he says.

Chris Brown, a member of Black Lives Matter and the Northern Kentucky NAACP, on her own organized a march “in the spirit of activism.”

Brown says her goal was to get citizens registered to vote.

“I’m hoping to bring awareness about police brutality and injustice for colored people. My goal is just to get this area in Northern Kentucky in the swing of the national movement,” Brown says with enthusiasm.

Chris Brown

Activists marched from the old K-Mart building on Dixie Highway in Erlanger to the Elsmere Police Department. Beginning with a prayer for safety and unity, the march was a peaceful show of solidarity of young, old, black, and white.

Other marches took place across the region.

The activism happening now, “is about our future. This is about America coming together,” Bowles says.

“Coronavirus reminded us to work together. Then comes this unrest. It reminds us also that we have to be looking out for each other. We have to care about each other. We have to care about each other even though they don’t look like me. We have to care about each other even if they might not be in my community. We have to care about each other because they might be hurting. That’s what this is about right now. 2020 can be defined as the caring year. Do we care enough about each other? Do we love each other? Do we want to help each other? Do we want to create a society in America that stands out among any of the world?”

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