When George Floyd’s death began a national conversation about policing methods, Miami Township resident Achmed Beighle wanted to know the situation at home. “I’m a Black man, and my children are Black,” he says. “If I’m going to spend another 10 years here watching my children grow up, I must be comfortable enough that my kids will be safe.”
That desire led to the adaptation of a program – Undivided through Crossroads Church – that has become a national model for a racial solidarity experience between police departments and their communities. “We nominated Achmed for the Chief John Cooper Award not only because he brought Undivided to Miami Township,” says Miami Township Police Chief Mike Mills, “but because he decided to pursue understanding of us, the police, by writing an email versus casting blind stones for things he did not know because he did not know.”
When Achmed sent that email “from the heart” to Miami Township and Milford Police Chiefs Mike Mills and Jamey Mills in June 2020, he had no idea where it would lead. “I just asked what was happening in our communities to ensure [the George Floyd type of police brutality] does not happen here,” he says. “I don’t want to have to fear being pulled over unfairly and not coming home to my family. And in a few years, I certainly don’t want to have to worry about that happening to my son.”
Those two emails sparked conversations that led to deep conversations about race and engaging the community. But the first step was lunch.
Achmed told the Chiefs about a program called Undivided that was run by Crossroads Church: “I’d gone through a few years before this,” he says, “and I got so much out of it.” Described by Crossroads as a program designed to “move congregations toward racial reconciliation and justice,” Undivided brings together diverse people in a group – whether this be the church, or what Achmed proposed to the Chiefs, in our community – to have those raw, unfiltered conversations that are necessary for people to truly understand each other.
“They were immediately interested,” Achmed was glad to hear, and they moved to the next step: figuring out how to bring Undivided to Miami Township. After discussing, they felt the first cohort should consist of many of the police supervisors and officers in Miami Township plus the two Chiefs. The cohort was then mixed with people from the community to provide the diversity and perspective necessary to make the program a success. “This was the very first Undivided held with a police department,” explains Achmed.
The program consisted of six 2-hour meetings, once per week; these had to be held via Zoom because it was the middle of COVID. Achmed remembers how uncomfortable the first meeting started out: “At first, nobody talked. Chiefs Mike and Jamey led the discussion. Later on, the ice broke, when we moved into small groups.”
In session 2, engagement increased, and participants began to understand one another. “We have more in common than we’re different,” asserts Achmed, and participants learned this about one another. “Lots of participants have children my children’s ages, they may be soccer dads, we all enjoy hanging with friends.”
Chief Mike Mills says, “The phrase, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ kept coming up throughout the six week program.” And by the end of the program, everyone felt they knew a lot more – and had a lot more understanding about the others in the group.
These discussions helped get over the hurdle Achmed says too often exists in our society: “When a police officer sees a person of color, or a person of color sees a police officer, there are unfortunately a lot of stereotypes that immediately go through people’s heads,” he explains.
This is reinforced by those “bad seeds” that exist everywhere, in every profession. As Chief Mike explained to the group, there are 700,000 police officers throughout this country, and only 1% are not there for the right reason. However, while he told participants this is a small number, “it still means that 7,000 officers who don’t have the right motivation are out there – and that’s where the problems happen, and where the stereotypes come from.”
At the conclusion of the 6-week course, Chief Mike Mills says that all participants felt the experience was enriching: “Each and every one described learning a lot about the experiences of the others. The police learned about the experiences of the Black and Brown residents and those same residents described learning a lot about the police officers and the people behind the badge,” he says.
The second cohort finished in November 2022, and there are plans in the works for another. “It’s so important to build relationships, and that’s what will make sure our community is safe for everyone, and attract new families,” Achmed stresses. “We want the Milford-Miami Township area to be a place where all types of people want to be, where we can all flourish.”
While Undivided started as a program of Crossroads, today it is its own non-profit with the goal of filling the gap they saw in book studies and DEI trainings that have limited lasting impact and often cause harm. Their team has built experiential programming designed to take businesses, organizations, and churches from isolation into community, and from inertia to action. The experiences bring people together to learn from each other with honesty, integrity, and vulnerability, moving them toward awareness, through agitation and into action.