In Boston’s Roxbury, Kenneth (“Kenny”) Grubbs figured out how to change the dynamic from distrust to engagement a long time ago. He lives in the community he polices, combining leadership on issues such as gangs and prostitution with ice cream and karaoke. “I lead by example: If you live in a community, you have to take ownership and responsibility.”
With the strife in Ferguson fresh in the news, the relationship between the police and local communities is a top concern in many neighborhoods. But in Boston’s Roxbury, Kenneth (“Kenny”) Grubbs figured out how to change that dynamic from distrust to engagement a long time ago.
“We’re taught that we’re supposed to be better than everyone else, and that can have the unfortunate side effect of causing some officers to look down at the people they police. But I also live in the community. I’m their neighbor, a role model…and at block parties, their DJ or MC!” says Ken, who is known as the “karaoke king.”
He does way more than just have fun with the residents – although being a real, “goofy” human being goes a long way. Ken also is active on the neighborhood association, helps lead local “flashlight walks” (in which residents “light up the night” on their block to get to know one another) and serves on planning committees to help tackle community challenges – from prostitution to families threatened by foreclosure.
That’s how he became familiar with NeighborWorks member Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp.
The police department created a neighborhood response team, to get to know the families on each beat and their particular situations. It quickly became clear that some problems that could affect the stability of the neighborhood – such as impending foreclosures – were beyond their ability to help. That’s where Nuestra came in.
But perhaps what Ken most takes pride in is helping young people whose environment is “primed” for trouble break the cycle. Every year, he personally selects 10 “Summer Explorers” to mentor. He brings them to community meetings, takes them to movies and puts them to work on a police ice cream truck at block parties. For many, becomes a surrogate father.
“You have to model leadership for kids,” Ken says. “I show them that if you live in a community, you have to take ownership and responsibility.”
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