Arts & Entertainment

Dream on Church Street: The Montclair Project Seeks to Strengthen Crosstown and Police-Community Relations

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - Residents gathered at Glenfield Middle School on Saturday to participate in a staged reading of the Uniform Justice Montclair Project.

A stage play written by Chuk Obasi and entitled Dream on Church Street, the production was based on dozens of interviews held with Montclair leaders, law enforcement officials and residents. Local actors came together to act out community-police interactions in an effort to build community-police relations.

The initiative took nine months to bring to the forefront and seeks to use the insight approach for conflict transformation for crosstown and community-police relations throughout Montclair.

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According to organizers, the insight approach uses a method of conflict analysis to determine, "What are we doing when using our minds to engage or disengage conflict?"

Dream on Church Street was brought together after several "insight conversations" were held with over 40 law enforcement and local residents throughout Montclair to discuss barriers between them.

Organizers state that the purpose of bringing forth such a project, is to spark constructive conversation between residents of various diverse sections of Montclair and between the police and community.

The Uniform Justice Montclair Project is modeled after a similar project started in Memphis. In 2014, Memphis, TN was suffering from a crisis of retaliatory violence.  The problem was so severe it drew the attention of the Department of Justice.  A solution to the conflicts and fear was found through the Retaliatory Violence Insight Project (RVIP).  RVIP was implemented by the NY based non-profit organization Intersections International. 

The police were trained in the Insight approach.  Insight training teaches officers about conflict analysis and equips them with the interpersonal skills to transform a conflict before it escalates.

Many have described Montclair as “diverse, but divided.” Therefore, Montclair’s Community Policing Commander, Lt. Tyrone Williams, Mayor Jackson and the Town Council felt it was necessary to do something proactive and were immediately receptive to the Insight Training methods that Lt. Williams proposed.

With funding secured through the Montclair Township, The Montclair Foundation, The Montclair Fund for Women, Union Congregational Church and individual donors, Uniform Justice: The Montclair Project kicked off on September 1, 2015.

On May 12, a community session with Intersections International was held at Van Vleck House & Gardens for residents to learn about the law enforcement enrichment training that has taken place in Montclair as well as the community and youth outreach that is planned.

After the staged reading on Saturday, Obasi asked the audience for feedback, noting that it was his intent for every audience member to see themselves in the production. He also stated that the script could still be adjusted based on the community feedback.

Mr. Oversby, a longtime Montclair resident, spoke on his 70-year experience living in Montclair. He noted a change in the interactions with police officers when they were no longer residents of Montclair. He further mentioned that he has noticed that since many officers do not live in Montclair, he feels this attributes to some growing tension that he and his family members have experienced.

Several montclair leaders were in attendance including Mayor Robert Jackson, Fourth Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville, Police Chief Conforti, Deputy Chief Wil Young, Lt. Tyrone Williams.

Other staged readings are planned for June 10 and 11 at Union Congregational Church at 7:30p.m.

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