In part 2 of our interview with Colonel James Kirkwood, we talk about how to bring real change about in our communities and combat racial injustice. Kirkwood, who served on the Memphis police force for over 31 years and as pastor at Ambassadors for Christ Fellowship Church for 21 years, has first-hand experience in his professional and personal life that are powerful. Now, as the Executive Director of the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, he offers a unique perspective that the white community can learn from.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- What life as a black person is really like.
- Why you need to know that the stories you hear are NOT exaggerated.
- Why the key to change lies within the white community listening.
Read the transcript of the podcast below.
>> Karin: Welcome to R4R: Conversations that Educate and Elevate. I’m Karin Conlee, and I am so thrilled to be back for part two with my good friend, James Kirkwood. Thank you so much for coming back again for a second episode.
>> James: Hey, thank you for inviting me.
>> Karin: Well, if you missed our first conversation together, I really want to encourage you to go back and listen to it. Who I am talking to right now, this good friend of mine has served as a Memphis police officer for 31 years. He has served as a pastor for almost as long, and he is now the executive director of Memphis Christian Pastors Network. And we are talking about some topics that are very weighty in our culture right now.
Colonel Kirkwood, as you talked about your experience, both as a young man witnessing some injustices in your neighbourhood from a police officer, and really, that compelling you into a lifelong profession to help your community. As we move into present day, [00:01:30] I want you to speak for a few minutes, maybe specifically to our white audience. As a white person, I have never experienced some of the things that some of my black friends have talked about, in terms of fear, in terms of just what a situation looks like, when maybe they encounter somebody in law enforcement.
Talk to us and educate us. Help us to have an understanding, as a white community, of maybe some of our blind spots when this topic comes about in our culture.
>> James: I think if I would say something to the white community, I would say that what you hear is not an exaggeration.
What you hear African Americans talking about when they deal with police, that is not an exaggeration. It is real. And just because you haven’t experienced it, or your sons and daughters, you don’t worry about a police encounter with your sons and daughters. That’s not the same for the African American community. When I sit around pastors,
and they are shocked that we are having a conversation to our kids, our sons, on how to make it home, if you are stopped by the police. It tells you that this is real. And for that conversation to have to go on, you can’t say or think that that’s not real. It’s real, all right? And this is what’s taking place.
And even if you’ve never walked in our shoes or lived around it, you can come in and visit what we go through, through our story, through our stories, all right? Because we’re telling you what takes place. When you look at… And I think, here’s what’s beautiful. When you saw what took place with Mr. Floyd, how the officer
did not get up off his neck, and there was no reason for him not to get up off that man’s neck. And that man was complying. He was complying, but he stayed there. That tells you, what has been said is real.
I think, sometimes, though you’ve never experienced it.
I learned early in life. If I want to know about something, I really need to go and talk to the people that are dealing with it. If I really want to know what’s going on with a cancer patient, I need to go and talk to him and say, “Is that pain real, or is what you’re going through real?”
Is the depression, is anxiety, because during this COVID thing, we’ve seen a lot of anxiety just go up. Is it real? How is it real for you? Well, I may not experience it. I may not have any problem with anxiety. I’m like, “Cool.” But this person is struggling with it, and that is real. And if you really want to know about it, you’ve got to go talk to him. But when you talk to him, listen to him, and don’t explain it away. And here’s the worst thing
you could do. You learn this, you never ever minimize a person’s pain, or you never try to find justification for the minimization of the pain by saying, “Well, if he had just complied with the police, none of this would have happened.” I’m like, “Dude, really?” Come on, now. “If he hadn’t been fighting [00:06:00]the police, none of this would have happened.”
You have to look and say, how do we, in 2020, still deal with a problem? How does a conversation continue to spear into existence over the same thing? [00:06:30]
And that’s police brutality, and that’s criminal injustice. How we’re still having these conversations is because somebody is not paying attention. And I really need the white community to pay attention, because systemic racism takes place within policies,
and it takes place within laws, and it takes place within the mindset of people. Sometimes unconsciously, that implicit bias that you don’t see, but it’s there. I need you to listen, because if we’re going to make a change, if we’re going to move forward, I need your voice and I need your vote on changing the way we’ve done things down through the years.
If not, we will be here again.
>> Karin: Well, Colonel Kirkwood, in our first episode, you used the phrase, “You have to own your ugly.” I think that needs to be a T-shirt, honestly.
>> James: Okay, all right.
>> Karin: I think all of us need to own our ugly.
>> James: Own our ugly.
>> Karin: There’s something to be said for that. But from your perspective, what needs to happen,
both within a police department and within the culture at large, so that we don’t circle back to this subject again? You gave the illustration of the diet. You start out really strong, but then things… Do you sense anything? I know you’re retired now, so you’re not in the force to maybe have those first-hand experiences. But are you sensing that there is any movement or shift that can solve some of these problems [00:08:30] once and for all, happening within police departments?
>> James: Yes. I think you’re seeing a lot of things come forth. You see a big conversation around community policing now, and that’s huge. You’ve seen a lot of a big push for policy changes, and policies, rewriting policy, [00:09:00] where officers are made to police other officers on the scene, when they’re going rogue.
>> Karin: Okay.
>> James: That’s real, that is happening. You see policy changes, when it comes down to the amount of force an officer will use. You cannot put your knee on a person’s neck, that kind of thing.
Chokeholds being banned. You see a lot of that going on. You also see a lot of conversations going on, where community leaders are coming to the table, and they are talking with police. Everybody’s ears are open to make a difference. Let’s see how we fix this. Now, what we have to do is make sure the conversations don’t stop. And we really have to make sure that when
the hard conversation comes, because it’s easy to talk about… Well, let’s talk about community policing, and we talk about our community coming together. But then, when we start talking about, okay, hiring practices. What goes in the hiring practice of these officers, and what are we going to be looking for? Who do we want to be hired as police officers?
Those are conversations the community has to have, because the community knows what they want. If you go and say, “Hey, what’s your ideal police officer?” They’re going to give you this image of this great guy that they want. And so, you have to turn yourself in, that’s what the community wants. And if I’m not giving the community what they want, then the community’s going to be upset, and they probably won’t be tipping us, or be willing to [00:11:00] stand with us when crises occur.
I applaud Memphis. Memphis has done a great job in the area of police, community policing, and police relationships with community, but we could do a lot more. We really could make community policing the brain for the police department, [00:11:30] throughout the department. That can take place.
>> Karin: When we hear conversations about defunding police and those kinds of things, how do you hear that? What is it that you, maybe, would either agree with or disagree with, or an insight that you would have, that maybe for some people, strikes fear? Like, that you’re not going to be able to protect yourself or defend yourself, and officers [00:12:00] are going to be put in positions that they are coming against people who have weapons. How do you, knowing all that you know, and the effectiveness that you have seen, when you hear those kinds of conversations, what would be helpful for those that aren’t on the inside track to understand about that?
>> James: I have a guy who’s like, “No, guys, we can’t defund policing, by no means.”
>> Karin: Okay.
>> James: Now, we can talk about moving funds, rearranging funds that are given to the police department, to put them in places of community policing and preventive policing. Things we can do like that. But defunding policing, no. And also, if you really want to do this community thing, it probably will cost more. We probably have to pay more on the front end,
but it will save money on the back end, when we begin to decrease crime and people are in good standing, and communities coming together. That peace alone is worth paying for, because that’s going to turn into more companies coming to you, business, bringing better jobs. That kind of thing. Businesses not being robbed, people can go out and spend money shopping, and that kind of thing. So, it turns around within economics of man.
>> Karin: That’s a great point. As we think about this, I know that your wisdom is broader than just your experience on the police force. So, that’s obviously a great asset to us, to have your wisdom there. When you think about just the issues at large in our country right now, and the division that exists, what do you see as maybe the core issues that need to be addressed?
>> James: I think, core issues. On the church side, I think the church has not done a good job of being the voice of the helpless. They’ve not been a strong voice. They haven’t advocated for [00:14:30] the poor, for the fatherless. They haven’t done what they should. When you see groups like Black Lives Matter coming up, being the voice, saying the things that we, the church, should have said. The [Inaudible 00:14:53] we should say. You wonder, “Man,
How did we get into this place, where we begin to not advocate for the things that our saviour advocated for?” And so, I think, as a pastor and as a man, I sit back and say, “Hey, church, we’ve got to do a better job than what we’re doing. We have to begin to be the voice for the helpless.” For the community, I think the community also has led community down. Because really, believe it or not, church is community.
What you see in church, usually, I had an old pastor who taught me to see them. Whatever you see going on in society, I promise you, it’s been in the church. And so, this complacency that we see within the church is also seen in the community, where the community is not being a voice [00:16:00] for the poor. Matter of fact, we tend to beat up on the poor a whole lot. We tend to beat up on the fatherless. We don’t advocate for them, say, we shun them. And when it goes bad, community says, “Hey, let’s just lock them up, and move out the way.” But in some kind of way, we the community have to do a better job, and I think all of this comes
down to love. Because even the business community needs to do a better job, in the hiring and opening avenues to bring people in early, to get them trained. They need to do a better job in getting people to know what their companies need. And they need to work with the school system, and the school system needs to work with the business community and the churches, so that we can begin to prepare our young people [00:17:00] for the future. So that they would know that Smith & Nephew needs machinists to operate. And they would know that these companies need industrial electricians. And so, schools, this is what you need to be bringing about. This is what you need to be turning out, so that they could move into the workforce and be successful, and have a successful career. Those are the things I think.
When you look at it, I’m this guy who just believe that most of our problems have simple fixes. We just complicate things. And I think we complicate things, because we fail to do the one thing that God has always called us to do. And that was to love him with all of our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And because everybody in these facets fail to do those two things, which dismiss. It’s really something to take care of the people you love. You do whatever you need to do.
>> Karin: Right. That is so well said, and just really cuts through so many layers. One of the things that we’ve not really talked about thus far in our conversation is your role at the Memphis Christian Pastors Network. And really, I know the foundation
of that, and correct me if I’m wrong on this, but it was really to say, “Okay, if the pastors are divided in the city of Memphis, how will the people of the churches be united?” And so, it was really that first step forward. Tell us a little bit about the work that’s going on with the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, and your role there.
>> James: Hey, this is a great organization.
I was blessed to retire from serving the community with the police department, to coming over to the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, yet serving the community, still serving the community. It is an awesome organization, it’s a group of pastors. About 67, 70 churches, across denominational lines, across racial lines, mega church, small church,
it’s countywide wide. It’s not just in Memphis, we have churches in Collierville, Germantown, Mississippi, and we come together. These pastors come together to build a relationship with each other, to find trust with each other, to have real conversations around the situations and the incidents that are occurring in our city, to have real conversations, safe talk conversations around the table.
We focus on building a pathway out of poverty. Memphis has a high poverty rate. And how can the church, how can we, the people of God, impact that? How can we reduce poverty in our city? The Memphis Christian Pastors Network, we chose to do it through vocational education or CTE, Career Technology Education.
And that’s sitting down with business people, with the educational centers of our city, as well as the pastors, and formalizing, what do you all need? How can a church who has a voice with the people know what’s needed, and know what to come back with our congregations and share?
And so, we’re partnering with those agencies to help build a pathway out of poverty, so that people can get skilled up. There’s a big thing that’s going on through the chamber, UpSkill901. The church is sitting there with the chamber saying, “Okay, yes, we like that. UpSkill901.” How do we get our young people that opportunity at youth to engage with Career Technology Education, so that they can become the machinists, the plumbers, the electricians, the carpenters, so they can get those
in the industrial technology? How can they? We put people into Moore Tech, Southwest, TCAT, all these agencies where the education will be basically free. So that you can come out of school within 18 months to two years, making more than $15 an hour.
And then, how do we connect those who need a job with those agencies who are looking for workers? We have been really busy doing this here, I think it’s absolutely wonderful. And this is something that the Memphis Christian Pastors Network is passionate about. I mean, we are so passionate about this, because we know this works. It works.
>> Karin: Absolutely. One of the things,
and reasons that we are just so encouraged with the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, and their interest in Race for Reconciliation and involvement there, it’s because as we’ve gone through and learned from people that have been on the ground in Memphis, specifically, and then seen it replicated in other cities across the country. If we just come together and say we want to make things better, but don’t actually do something to make it better, [00:23:00] then we’re just saying, “Be warm and well fed.” It’s just words, it’s not actions.
>> James: Yes.
>> Karin: And so, for us as an organization, really, what you just tapped into with UpSkills901 is really the second of three of our city partnerships. We’ve said literacy tutoring to be proactive, that vocational training. So, for those that don’t get to go to college, how do we give them meaningful skills and professions that can [00:23:30] help launch them out of poverty, and really break that cycle? And then, the third being leadership development.
>> James: Good.
>> Karin: How do we provide minority leadership development? I love the work that is happening at Memphis Christian Pastors Network, and your part in that. So, thank you so much for all that you’re doing there.
>> James: Oh, man.
>> Karin: I think you are definitely on to something there. And Colonel Kirkwood, I can’t thank you enough, not only for coming on and having this conversation, but just for your [00:24:00] lifetime of being a servant leader in the city of Memphis. I know that you are respected and beloved in our community, and I’m right there, joining people in that respect and love for you. Thank you for your work. As we talk about at Race for Reconciliation, it requires all sectors of the community. Faith and business, and economics, and all of the schools, and government, and police.
All of us together, to bring health to our communities. Thank you for the ways that you do that. If people are interested in the Memphis Christian Pastors Network or their work with UpSkills901, where’s the best place for them to find out more about Memphis Christian Pastors Network?
>> James: The best place is to come on out to our website, memphiscpn.org. That’s our website. You can go there, you can find ways to reach out to me [00:25:00] on the network. Hey, I talk to people all the time about what we’re doing, who want to be a part, and we can figure out ways for you to help.
>> Karin: Perfect. Well, we are so grateful. And if you want, please, go check out the website for Memphis Christian Pastors Network. There might be ways that you can partner with them to help with jobs and vocational training. Maybe you’re involved in a church that’s not a part of the network, and you want to [00:25:30] encourage your pastor to learn about it, love for you to do that. And if you want more information on Race for Reconciliation, check out raceforreconciliation.org, and we’ll see you next time.
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