URBANA, Illinois – An experienced student engagement director and recent interim assistant director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center has started in a new role as the Director of Community Development and Engagement at the University of Illinois Police Department.
Dementro Powell has been known around campus as “Mr. RSO” for his work in student engagement through the university’s registered student organization office, and for his involvement in coordinating large scale student events and programming. This week, Powell started in his new role at the Division of Public Safety, where he will be tasked with building new relationships between police officers and community members and encouraging constructive conversations to promote equity and inclusivity.
“I envision a community where students, staff, police officers, and civilians are more engaged in each other’s lives with a genuine interest of learning what each other are doing while supporting one another in their endeavors,” Powell said. “This would be by way of working on programs together, engaging in dialogue meant to enhance our understanding of one another, and hopefully revisiting the ‘why’ of it all.”
The Director of Community Development and Engagement is a brand new position at the University of Illinois Police Department, and it marks the beginning of a heightened effort to engage with and listen to interests, concerns and suggestions from community members.
Powell said the programming he will be working on will include strengthening relationships with campus cultural houses, having officers interacting more with student organizations as mentors and advisors, creating dynamic and fun opportunities to engage with athletes, fraternities and sororities, and staff. He said he has already been in conversations with some of the student groups he had been advising, and he plans to reach out to more campus groups in the coming weeks.
Powell hopes to promote a mutual understanding between police officers and members of the community, with a focus on engaging with Black and Brown students and staff.
“I would like to develop effective conversations where people representing both sides of the coin, be it police or civilians are actually listening to one another to begin healing and working towards the common goal of being a proactive and inclusive community,” Powell said.
Part of that job will be listening, and he encourages anyone with ideas to reach out.
“Any programs or events you think would be good to support such initiatives or suggestions on where to look for existing programs that we could collaborate or adopt to the campus community, I am all ears,” Powell said.
Anyone can contact him by emailing email@example.com or through his Facebook page. And an office visit is welcome any time.
“Just make sure to bring the Ginger Ale as that is my drink of choice,” Powell said. “Let’s talk and take action together!”
Q&A with Dementro Powell, UIPD’s new Director of Community Development and Engagement
Tell us about what interested you in this position at UIPD. How does your previous experience on campus contribute to your new role?
After spending the last 8 years working with the UIPD in a variety of ways whether it was serving on committees together, participating in a ride-along or working on events there has always been a consistency in my experience working with my colleagues in the department. There has always been this very intriguing connection between myself and the men and women working in the Department of Public Safety that felt natural while having a genuine interest in what I do both professionally as well as socially. In my role as a mentor, advisor, and campus leader my background fits the needs of this position like hand in glove as it allows me to be expressive and creative while satisfying my need to engage with students as well as both the campus and greater Urbana-Champaign community. My opinion has always been valued with the staff in UIPD and there is a level of mutual trust that I appreciate and I hope that the rapport and relationship I have established with our police officers provides as a blueprint design to be duplicated and followed throughout our community.
What has your experience been with campus police?
My experience working with campus police throughout the years has always been a positive and at times uplifting experience. This is not to say that improvements are not to be made, but what is unique about the campus police overall from what I have observed they are open to suggestions and willing to listen to the problems and concerns on the community’s mind. Seeing them first-hand engage with students and the community has been a very positive learning experience for me especially when participating in ride-along (which I strongly suggest you participate in) and community service initiatives with them. One of the biggest complements as an African American male who is often seen as the “endangered species” among the police community I have received is the comfort levels some of them have established with me to ask questions of me and about me and my cultural background with one goal in mind and that is to learn to become more aware to where I wish they are able to have more conversations like that with other members within my community.
What are your goals and vision for this position? What would you like to accomplish?
I would like to develop effective conversations where people representing both sides of the coin be it police or civilians are actually listening to one another to begin healing and working towards the common goal of being a proactive and inclusive community. I envision a community where students, staff, police officers, and civilians are more engaged in each other’s lives with a genuine interest of learning what each other are doing while supporting one another in their endeavors. This would be by way of working on programs together, engaging in dialogue meant to enhance our understanding of one another, and hopefully revisiting the WHY of it all. This would include strengthening our relationships with the Cultural Houses, having officers interacting more with RSOs as mentors and advisors, creating dynamic and fun opportunities to engage with our athletes, fraternities & sororities, and staff by way of events, competitions, and other forms of engagement while also visiting and presenting in classrooms by working with professors to raise awareness of what is happening in our community and provide an opportunity to learn from one another.
This is a new position for the department – how do you hope that your work will benefit our campus community?
I hope to create a more positive outlook of the police officers while teaching them to look from a different lens by way of helping them remember what it is like to be a civilian again which will help them be able to walk in the shoes of that life again. I also hope to increase our visibility in a proactive manner to where we are engaging with students more in their day-to-day practices by helping with programs, getting involved with challenges, serving as committee members on leadership boards especially with our black and brown students and staff. On the same note I would like to see our black and brown community increasing involvement with police matters learning more about what they do and be more inclined to work with the police to work on a resolve from within the department as a way to provide constructive feedback with the intentions of reversing the negative relationships that exists.
Where should people on campus expect to see you in the coming weeks or months? Who will you be reaching out to?
I will be engaging with RSOs and reaching out to them to re-introduce myself in my new role and have already been speaking with groups I advise and or mentor on campus including the Illini Hockey Club Team, Illinois Men’s Rugby, and the Where Black Music Lives (WBML) encouraging them to participate in different initiatives to learn more about UIPD. I will also be reaching out to diverse reflection of staff, faculty, and community members to establish working groups to provide input and feedback on subject matters regarding police training, practices, and approaches as a way to begin helping police to reboot their civilian lifestyles and do better at finding balance as a sworn officer without losing touch with who they are as Human Beings and why they became police in the first place. Knowing that they are a significant vibe and presence on the campus I will hopefully be integrating Fraternities & Sororities especially members of the Divine nine as well as our student-athletes in the work that we do to reinforce or build bridges that may be broken. Finally, there will be a strong interest in working with our students of color especially our Black Men to begin working on a mentoring program that will help break down the walls preventing either side to work with one another and empathize in the fact that there is a problem while being willing to address any issues where stalemates exists.
Can people contact you with ideas or thoughts? What kind of ideas are you looking for from members of our community? How can they get in touch?
I have an open-door policy and am very personable where I welcome ideas that leads to resolutions and builds community. Any programs or events you think would be good to support such initiatives or suggestions on where to look for existing programs that we could collaborate or adopt to the campus community I am all ears. You can feel free to reach out to me on my Facebook Account at Dementro Powell, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the office for a visit to talk just make sure to bring the Ginger Ale as that is my drink of choice. Let’s Talk and Take Action Together!
Anything else you want to add?
When I am not in the community engaging with students or putting together events, programs, or tackling social justice issues while advocating for our students I love to cook and bake. I also am a huge movie buff with horror movies being my favorite genre and enjoy planning gatherings for the Black Faculty and Professionals Alliance Organization (BFAPA) and our multicultural social group called SHADES that I hope to engage some of our officers in. If I am not working or doing some community service you can catch me coaching my team of bodybuilders becoming one with my coach playing video games drinking a nice cold glass of Ginger Ale.
I would also like to add one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”