By Dawn Scotland
The Truth Reporter
The Toledo Opera, The African American Police League and the Toledo Police Museum
held a reception, “Preserving the African American Legacy in Law Enforcement,” at the Toledo Police Museum (Ottawa Park) Thursday night in anticipation of the debut of the opera Blue this weekend at the Valentine Theatre (August 26 and August 28).
The event recognized Black leaders in Toledo’s Police history and highlighted two important AAPL projects: the Oral History Project and the Recruitment and Mentoring Programs. The reception was sponsored by the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge Grant.
Blue is a groundbreaking production that features and all Black cast, chronicling the story of a modern-day Black family whose father is a police officer and the struggles of that reality in today’s society.
The Toledo Opera commissioned composer Sophia J. Bass to set to music the poem ‘Tainted Badge 602’, written by retired black Toledo Police Department lieutenant Robert Hellom. The riveting selection was performed by Toledo Opera soprano Jhané Perdue accompanied by Toledo Opera Co-Artistic Director Kevin Bylsma followed by a spiritual.
Five honorees were awarded plaques for their service to the African American Police League and their contributions to policing in Toledo. Past presidents and founders of the AAPL: John Preston (past president and founder), James Sneed (founder and historian), Robert Hellom (past president), David Smith (founder), Harold Mosely (past president) and Ron Shannon (past president).
Anita Madison, president of the African American Police League and retired Toledo Police Sergeant remarked that through the collaborative efforts, “Our goal is to bring awareness to our organization and our efforts to recruit more black officers in our community.”
Shirley Green, retired police lieutenant and executive director of the Toledo Police Museum, provided the history of black officers in the Toledo Police Department. The first black officer was hired in 1887 after the Toledo Police Department inception in 1867.
In 1968 a group of 34 officers, some of whom were present Thursday and recognized, came together and formed the African American Patrolmen’s League, now known as The African American Police League.
“The group was formed to deal with issues of discrimination,” remarked Green, “against Black officers in promotions, assignments and [against] disciplinary action taken against
Black officers”. She noted that one of the founding members remarked,” [The actions of the league] made it possible for an officer’s ability to determine their status on the department not their race.”
Black offers were met with undue restrictions and barriers in the police force. The formation of this league later resulted in the National Black Police Officers Association in 1972. Today, the AALP has created mentorship programs, surveillance program and a host of other initiatives to improve conditions for Black officers.
The collaboration with the Toledo Opera has brought more awareness of the history of African Americans in the Toledo Police Department. “It has been an honor,” shared Alyssa Greenberg, director of Community Engagement at Toledo Opera, “to collaborate with the African American Police League to activate the art form of opera to amplify the stories of Black law enforcement here in Toledo”
The League was awarded the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge Grant that will support the oral history project. The project will make Toledo the only law enforcement agency that will have four generations of police officers interviewed. The grant will also aid in expanding the League’s current mentorship program.
An African American couple in Harlem anticipates the birth of their firstborn, a son, with both hope and fear. As the baby grows into a young man, the mother worries for his future, and the father tries to prepare his son for the realities of 21st century America, while wrestling with his own identity as a police officer, a “Black man in blue.” When their deepest fears come true, the family is forced to navigate a devastating reality seeking answers and support from their church and community. Toledo Opera presents the Tony Award®–winning composer Jeanine Tesori and NAACP Theatre Award–winning librettist Tazewell Thompson’s New opera inspired by contemporary events and Black literature. Influenced by gospel music and using vivid flashbacks, Blue places timely issues at the forefront of modern opera and invites audiences to the emotional epicenter of their impact. Chelsea Tipton, II returns to Toledo to conduct the opera and librettist Tazewell Thompson serves as the stage director.
Blue is made possible by Owens Corning, The National Endowment for the Arts, and Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment. For the Humanities. For more information about Blue, please visit www.toledoopera.org/upcoming-performances/season-event/blue/. For more
information on Toledo Opera, visit https://toledoopera.org.