The city of Flint recently created a 9-member advisory task force to bridge gaps between the community and law enforcement. Flintside will be talking with each member of the task force in the coming weeks about their reasons for joining and what they hope to accomplish.
FLINT, Michigan -- As a long time social justice activist and community relations advocate, Rev. Jeffrey Hawkins, pastor of Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church, is a Flint resident on a mission to improve public health concerns throughout the city.
Hawkins experienced the effects of community violence firsthand, following the murders of his two sons. However, grief became a segway into advocacy where Hawkins felt he could advocate on behalf of those lost to violence and community division.
“It gave me a more aggressive desire to seek justice and equality. Even though I perhaps couldn't see it for them, I can speak up for others,” said Hawkins.
Leading many initiatives to challenge the public health crises of Flint, Hawkins quickly found himself working on many projects dedicated to social justice and community improvement across the city.
Since beginning his journey as a pastor in 2011, Hawkins has organized initiatives like Going the Extra Mile, an annual community event promoting unity and health with games, activities, and free health and wellness resources. Hawkins has also worked with the Governor’s Office and the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department, with his church and local nonprofit organizations to create community building initiatives and opportunities.
“I've been grateful to be a part of so many organizations with so many great players that have made a positive impact on the city,” said Hawkins.
In August, Hawkins was appointed chair of the Flint Community Advisory Task Force to the Flint Police Department, tasked with being an opportunity to bridge community members with law enforcement. The task force was formed as part of Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s response to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the demonstrations around the country that followed this summer.
“Let's go back to what the police know about the people in the community, they know the store owners, the restaurant owners and when children see the police, and they don't believe that they're automatically a threat. Those are the things that have to come out of this,” said Hawkins.
Since being appointed the chairperson of the task force, Hawkins has appointed six members with diverse identities and work experience.
“The idea of the task force is to deal with those things [racial injustice] and to have those tough conversations to ensure that you [the community] know policies and procedures ... we want to make sure that we're looking at everybody, and make sure that everybody's being held accountable for what they do,” Hawkins said.
Believing heavily that the progression of a community relies on a community’s ability to work together and grow together, Hawkins continues to be involved in equity conversations across the city of Flint.
Hawkins also serves on the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which he was appointed to by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in June following growing protests over police brutality and racial tensions across the nation.
The commission exists to provide guidance on training and licensing police statewide.
Prior to his work on the commission, Hawkins worked closely with the Genesee County Sheriff's department conducting one-on-one diversity training for all staff. As a trainer, Hawkins has spoken with deputy sheriffs and provided exercises on effective interaction with community members to ensure all residents are being treated equally when approached.
“We can be the change that we want to see, and we can be the model that needs to be seen all over the world,” he said.