The Museum is pleased to partner with the Charleston, SC based Illumination Project to create a nationwide program designed to strengthen the relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. This ground-breaking project is known as the Affinity Project and marks the first time a national Museum has created a program to bring law enforcement and citizens together with a goal of identifying and implementing actionable items which reflect the goal of strengthening relationships.
The brutal and senseless murders of nine parishioners inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 were a painful event for our entire nation. The Charleston (SC) Police Department wanted to find a way to “illuminate” or shine a light on areas of the community where improved relationships between citizens and police were needed. By bringing together a wide range of citizens, community leaders, and law enforcement, the Illumination Project has been able to nurture an understanding of these groups. Spring-boarding on the success of the Illumination Project and in partnership with them, the Museum has launched the Affinity Project.
A key element in the Affinity Project involves a unique approach called polarity thinking that addresses complex societal issues. A problem can have a solution; however, a polarity is ongoing, unsolvable and contains opposing ideas. Cultural, socioeconomic and community influences impact the way we look at situations. By overcoming and setting aside some of these inherent biases, law enforcement, community leaders, and citizens can create actionable items which will improve relationships and ultimately lead to safer communities.
The Affinity Project is the nation’s first program of its kind facilitated by a national museum. Our program began in June 2018 with the Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department, community leaders, and citizens who reside in Prince George’s County attending a two-day workshop that included thoughtful dialogue as well as interactive and role-playing exercises to analyze behavior and perspectives. These activities are combined with “back home” sessions to identify ways of strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and citizens. The Museum plans to bring the Affinity Project to other communities and law enforcement agencies across the country.