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Protests are generally meant to raise awareness and make people pay attention.

And in that regard, the Wichita Black Lives Matter march on July 12, 2016, was an unequivocal success.

On that day, hundreds of Kansans turned out to make their anger heard in response to the continued police killings of black Americans. And while city and state police gathered to keep a watchful eye on the evening's events, they simply watched the protest happen without intervening ('cause, ya know, people have a First Amendment right to assemble and speak out, and it's the job of the police to uphold the law 'n' stuff).


A.J. Bohannen leads a group of Black Lives Matter protesters in Wichita, Kansas, on July 12, 2016. Image via U.S. Latest News/YouTube.

But the day after that protest, things really got cookin'…

According to ABC News in Kansas, Wichita police chief Gordon Ramsay (as opposed to chef Gordon Ramsay) invited local Black Lives Matter leaders to meet with him at the police headquarters the day after the protest — not to reprimand their actions, but to have a discussion about where to go next.

"We definitely want a citizen review board with subpoena power. We want an outside prosecutor to come in and look at these police involved shootings," said BLM organizer A.J. Bohannen, who was in attendance that day, about the changes he wanted to see (you can read his interview with KAKE here).

"Our officers are going call to call to call. They don't have time to build positive relationships," Ramsay said at a press conference the next day, when asked about how his department was functioning, and what he wanted to change. "It's reactive policing. It's not a healthy way to do it. And what I heard from protesters last night is they want to see community policing."

"The heart and soul of who I am: I am about community relationships, and we just need to figure these things out."

Police chief Gordon Ramsay. Image via City of Wichita/YouTube.

Ramsay listened to what protesters had to say and decided that the next big step in figuring things out would be for the police to … cook dinner for everyone.

BLM organizers had been planning another protest for July 17. But that was when they were still expecting their cries to be ignored once again.

After the successful conversation with Ramsay on July 12, the BLM organizers decided to cancel the upcoming protest. Then, Ramsay and his officers hosted a community cookout instead, in an effort to improve relationships, start conversations, and promote positive interactions between officers and citizens.

About 400 people RSVP'd to the appropriately-named First Steps Cook Out on Facebook — and more than 1,000 showed up at McAdams Park on that Sunday evening.

In addition to some tasty burgers and dogs, there were speeches by local community leaders, and a Q&A session with the police to open up the conversation about how to make communities safer and improve respect across the board.


And for those who couldn't attend? Speeches from community leaders of all races and creeds were broadcast over Facebook Live. (Unfortunately, Mark Zuckerberg still hasn't figured out how to make hot dogs available over streaming video.)


For some people in Wichita, it was the first time in decades they actually had a chance to sit with and engage police officers in a civil discussion. While there are plenty of factors that have contributed to this breakdown in police-community relations in the city itself, something as simple as a First Steps Cook Out is an important first step toward changing how the system works.


But mostly, it was also just fun, effective community building.

See, nothing solves problems quite like dancing.


Apparently, some officers even learned about the crucial law enforcement skill known as the whip and nae nae.


And the whole event was perhaps even more impactful given the tragic shootings that occurred in Baton Rouge earlier day.

The First Steps Cook Out was a remarkable testament to the power of activism, both in the community and on the part of the police.

It was still just a first step — but it was a big one in the right direction.

Protests might seem inconvenient — and that's because they're meant to expose grievances that people don't want to talk about. For the Black Lives Matter organizers in Wichita, their actions succeeded in a way that nothing else had up until this point.

Of course, none of this would have been possible if the Wichita police weren't also willing to reach out and connect and try to offer solutions, too. Like most things, it's a two-way street, where a willingness to compromise makes progress come easier.

"This isn't something we're going to change overnight or tonight," Ramsay told the local Channel 12 News. "It's just going to take continual effort on everybody's part. And work on policy changes, relationships. And that's what's going to get to the heart of the issues."

He continued this line of thought in an interview with ABC News: "The biggest point that I want to make is that it starts with me, right? And I have set the tone that we are gonna treat people fairly and with dignity and respect, and it starts with me."

Sometimes that first step is the hardest to take. But Wichita found a way — and hopefully other communities can follow suit.

Here's a video from the event, if you'd like to see it for yourself:


Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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