By Sean Barron
When it came to describing walking alongside Trumbull County Sheriff Paul Monroe, Devin Sanders didn’t mince words.
“Good,” the 7-year-old Lordstown boy said simply about Monroe.
Devin’s one-word response may have been short, but you could say it went a long way toward capturing the essence of and spirit behind Sunday evening’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Service at Second Baptist Church, 1510 Main Ave. SW.
Sponsoring the 21/2-hour program was the Trumbull County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
About 300 elected officials, law-enforcement personnel and others attended the recognition gathering, the primary purposes of which were to emphasize and build on positive relations between black people and police, as well as to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy.
Monroe and Devin were among the many officers and children who walked through the sanctuary accompanying one another in a display of unity, another of the event’s main goals.
The Rev. Todd Johnson, Second Baptist’s pastor, stressed the importance of building bridges between police and those in the black community and having them work more closely together while appreciating and respecting one another’s humanity. At the same time, it’s vital to refrain from engaging in stereotyping either group, he explained.
“So often, we forget that for our sake, they put their lives on the line every single day,” the Rev. Mr. Johnson said, adding it’s often too easy to demonize all police officers for the mistakes and poor choices of a few.
Similarly, greater efforts need to be made to view black people favorably, realizing that the vast majority of them want to be productive to society in infinite ways.
“There are more doing the right thing than doing the wrong thing on both sides,” the pastor continued.
Mr. Johnson, to whom King is a heroic figure, added that hope often can be found for those who make negative decisions.
One of the program’s more emotional moments came during the recognition of David and Pat Leo, parents of slain Girard police officer Justin A. Leo, who was killed Oct. 21 in the line of duty while answering a call. The Leos also were given an angel figurine with wings, into which a small photograph can be inserted.
“Know that you have a community that supports you and that loves you,” said the Rev. Joseph E. Walker Jr., the TCIMA’s president.
In addition, the Rev. Mr. Walker praised Justin Leo for his service to the community and caring attitude.
Capt. Jeff Cole of the Warren Police Department mentioned an initiative that Mayor Doug Franklin spearheaded that is intended to bridge gaps between Mahoning Valley residents and police. An example of the idea in action can be found in the resource officers at Warren G. Harding High School, who try daily to do that, Cole explained.
The Scripture reading was from Proverbs 3:1-6, which talks in part about the value of trusting in God rather than simply leaning on one’s own understanding, relying on God to direct one’s path and finding favor in his sight.
A few speakers, including the Rev. Vincent Peterson, the TCIMA’s vice president who also served as the program’s master of ceremonies, urged attendees to commit themselves to keeping King’s dream of greater inclusion, fairness and justice alive. In addition, it’s vital to honor those of all faiths and backgrounds who worked with him, one speaker said.
Also honored were the members of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol, along with officers from many area departments who came to the program, for their sacrifices and service.
“I could not be more proud of those officers who answered the call to be here today,” the Rev. Mr. Peterson added.