When Abdul Williams was a young child, he had a near death experience. One day, a small candy lodged in his throat and he began to choke. His mother, a nurse, called 911 and soon a police officer responded to the scene.
“A white police officer came in and saved my life,” said Williams, who credits the man with inspiring him to join the ranks. Williams is a detective lieutenant at the Linden Police Department.
Williams said he shared his personal story to illustrate that despite rising animosity towards law enforcement, cops are not the enemy. “It’s a very tumultuous time between police and minority communities,” he said.
Williams was one of four presenters that headlined the 2016 Youth Empowerment Summit at New Community organized by the departments of Youth Services, Family Service Bureau and Harmony House.
The half-day summit focused on topics such as police interaction, choices and consequences and teen dating violence. Youth from the New Community Workforce Development Center’s Academic Enrichment Program for Older Youth, Newark Leadership Academy and Urban League of Essex County’s Face Forward Urban Youth Empowerment Program participated in the event held at the New Community Neighborhood Center at Hayes Street.
Newark’s Director of Prisoner Reentry Fred Murphy challenged the youth to think about their peer influences in his talk titled, “Choices and Consequences.”
A self-described former drug dealer, Murphy engaged the students in discussions and asked what happens when a person goes down the path of selling drugs.
“Some people get locked up, some people get killed, some people make it,” one young man replied, matter of factly.
Murphy also asked the students to consider the differences between communicating and simply fighting, as a response to a situation.
“It isn’t normal to fight. If you don’t know how to communicate, you need to learn how to communicate,” Murphy said. “Ya’ll are justifying anti-social behavior.”
As an officer, Williams offered practical tips to youth. For instance, if you get stopped by police, keep your hands out of your pockets. He also advised that the best thing to do if you feel an officer has violated your rights is to file a complaint after the matter.
“Your recourse is not on the street,” Williams emphasized. “The moment you resist on the street, you’re losing automatically,” he added.
Williams provided a forum for youth to voice their opinions and concerns and to respond. He acknowledged several times that not all police are honorable. However, he assured the youth that he vouched for the conduct of officers who are under his supervision, and his own actions.
“I act as if my grandma will see it on the news because nowadays there’s a good chance she will,” Williams said.
Cassandra Cooper, a youth advocate at the Urban League of Essex County, said that the students felt comfortable to speak out at the summit on topics relevant to their lives.
“I think there should be more outlets for them to express their feelings,” Cooper said.
Students also had an opportunity to engage with Director of Mission Frances Teabout, who challenged some prevalent present day attitudes. “We don’t help ourselves by blaming others for our problems,” Teabout said. “We have to help ourselves.”
The summit concluded on a high-energy note. Rutgers University’s SCREAM Theater gave an improvisational performance that depicted teen dating violence. After the skit, the actors invited the audience to participate in a question and answer session.
Edward Morris, director of Youth Services, said he was happy with the outcome of the summit: “I was really pleased with how attentive and engaged the students were during each session,” he said.
Attendees enjoyed a lunch catered by Papa Pat’s Pizza on South Orange Avenue.