We had a visit from the St. Paul Police Department on last Thursday. Officer Yileng and his partner came to our session and facilitated a group conversation on personal and community safety. Many of our students face extreme fear of the police and anyone representing high authority. The reason we brought in representatives from the police department is to provide our students with an alternative, more positive perspective on those on the community to protect them. The students all struggle in the socio-cultural context. Some of them are bullied in school by other minorities. Many are afraid because the police evokes images of violence and last resort as opposed those of preventative, community-solidarity.
In the same vein, these students do not get much role model presence and academic support and therefore are wary of outsiders which could be detrimental to their growth as fairly new refugee community. Our conversation on community safety, gang violence, and the role of the community including students allowed our girls to understand that they do not live in vacuum and there is help all around and they just have to ask. This is a mentality T2C tries to internalize for who we serve.
Officer Yileng mentioned a situation when he was walking towards a group of Karen individuals and they just all ran away. One of the younger girls said right away that she thinks the reason those kids ran was that they are scared of the police. She also asked me what happens if an individual wants to call 911 but the family does not speak English. We gave the kids some strategies around that. We also talked about Karen and African American gangs in their school, steps they can take to avoid them, and the importance for older girls to role-model for the younger ones. Unfortunately, many of our students know people in their school and church who are gang members and feel afraid at school. Overall, they said they enjoyed our guest speakers and it was the best part of their day.