By Jeremy C. Norris*
On March 10th 2018, Fit Oshkosh, Inc. hosted their third annual Kids and Cops basketball game. The basketball games featured groups of children, both elementary and high school from the surrounding schools, playing with police from Oshkosh Police Department. The event was free to attend and included workshops and family friendly activities.
Fit Oshkosh, Inc. is a local nonprofit organization that is focused on promoting social transformation in order to achieve racial equity and justice within the community. The way Fit Oshkosh, Inc. does this is by conducting racial literacy workshops where people can learn how to better understand and talk about issues related to diversity, difference, and inequality, and creating events like the Kids and Cops basketball game, which focused on creating a place where the local police and children of the community can interact with each other out of uniform.
In the workshops, the theme was creating a narrative that revolved around trust. Officers would ask the students in attendance questions on how to improve relations with the police, what could be done to increase trust, and about specific issues relevant to Oshkosh.
Tracey Robertson, Co-founder and Executive Director of Fit Oshkosh, Inc., emphasized that this event fit well with the police department’s “Know us before you need us” motto as it gave students the opportunity to meet police outside of the uniform. About the event she said, it will hopefully “give the youth some officers that can be mentors for them, that they can have relationships with.”
When asked about what impacts events like this have on the community, Chief Dean Smith of the Oshkosh Police Department highlighted that it allowed the youth and parents to see the police in a different light, stating “we’re dads, we’re daughters, we’re husbands and wives, and we’re people.” He spoke of becoming familiar with people and that allows a greater understanding.
Much like many others in the crowd, both Tracy Robertson and Chief Dean Smith hope to see this event continue growing as it has over the past few years, and with the help of the Menominee Nations Arena, that seems likely. Over 50 children were in attendance, up from the 20 that attended the inaugural Kids and Cops basketball game.
*Written by Jeremy C. Norris as part of an internship for Oshkosh Independent via UWO, where he is a senior majoring in Sociology. He is also a leader in ROTC and a cadet with the Wisconsin National Guard, and is currently interviewing with area police departments.
Photo: One of the workshops at the Kids and Cops game (by Jeremy C. Norris)