SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It’s been a while since Missouri State Men’s Basketball Head Coach Dana Ford got to blow his whistle.
But Saturday morning, Ford wasn’t trying to build a team with the sound of a whistle, he was trying to mend a community.
“I think there’s just a lot going on in our community today, nationally,” Ford said.
At the Hughes Apartment Complex in Springfield, Ford and his players held their first “Bears, Badges & Kids event” aimed at bringing local police officers and children together.
“Anytime that we can get an opportunity to educate and try to get some identity on both sides, that’s an opportunity to do some good,” Ford said.
Now, nearly a month after George Floyd’s death, protests continue across the country including here in the Ozarks.
Ford is in a rare position to understand both sides since his uncle was an officer.
But, like many minorities across the country, Ford’s no stranger to facing racism.
“I’m not different than anybody else in certain environments,” Ford said. “It’s disappointing, but I think our country is starting to turn a corner. I would hope so.”
Ford hopes events like these can help both sides understand each other better, and views it as his responsibility to nurture as a leader in the community.
“It’s an obligation,” Ford said. “I think it’s something that when you have a position of leadership you should take it seriously and try to help your community where your kids live, where you’re trying to raise your family.”
Springfield Chief of Police Paul Williams hopes his officers learn something from the experience as well.
“To connect on a fun level, with not just kids but I saw a lot of parents and residents, out of uniform,” Williams said. “Something they enjoy and not responding to a 9-1-1 call when something bad happens.”
“If you take some time to identify with one another, you have a better understanding of each other,” Ford said. “That could probably reconcile a lot of damaged relationships.”
The events are free for children in grades K-6, though registration ahead of time is necessary and can be done at MissouriStateBears.com.
The team has five more events planned at the end of each month:
- Saturday, July 25 – Nichols Park (1900 W Nichols St.)
- Saturday, Aug. 22 – Grant Beach Park & Pool (1401 N. Grant Ave.)
- Saturday, Sept. 26 – Reed Academy (2000 N. Lyon Ave.)
- Saturday, April 24 – Pipkin Middle School (1215 N. Boonville, Ave.)
- Saturday, May 22 – Silver Spring Park (1100 N. Hampton Ave.)