‘Caroling With Cops’ aims to spread cheer, ease tensions

Tamika Jones-Nwalipenja hoped to make a difference by bringing her children to “Caroling with a Cop” at 39th Police District in North Philadelphia. Her 13-year-old son, Zion, was afraid to stand next to the police officers, wondering if they’d react negatively if he moved too quickly.

“It’s been a tense year in the news,” said Jones-Nwalipenja, a Hunting Park resident. She was referring to the the Black Lives Matter movement and the unarmed black men who have been killed by police officers in America this year.

Her desire to ease this tension between community members and police officers is exactly why she participated the annual Christmas event with two of her children on December 7.

Despite being nervous to interact closely with police officers, Zion Nwalipenja, 13, reads a speech he composed in which he thanks the 39th Police District for attending the caroling event on December 7.
Despite being nervous to interact closely with police officers, Zion Nwalipenja, 13, reads a speech he composed in which he thanks the 39th Police District for attending the caroling event on December 7. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

The event is a collaboration between the 39th Police District and the Georgia E. Gregory Interdenominational School of Music (GEGISOM), intended to create better relationships between residents and police officers.

Joyce Drayton, the founder of GEGISOM, first came up with the idea in 2015 after asking herself, “There’s been lots of tension with police… how can we engage them in a non-confrontational way?”

In order to accomplish her goal, she found it important that “our youth see the positive side of our officers and the officers see the innocence of our youth.” She hopes “that this memory will linger” if her students and their parents later encounter the officers in their neighborhoods.

Police Officer Joe Lukaitis, community relations officer for the 39th, was quick to help Drayton in her cause—a collaboration that has kept the caroling event going for the past three years.

Though Lukaitis declined to comment, Marcell Basett, a public relations ambassador for the Police Advisory Commission, offered his thought that encouraging community members to come out and carol with police officers will help “kids [to] interact with officers in a positive manner, as a regular person.”

About twenty community members and ten police officers attended the event—singing holiday classics, such as “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” while donning Santa hats and munching on cupcakes and soft pretzels.

The caroling session concluded with a rendition of “Peace on Earth” in which all event attendees gathered in a circle and held hands.

“In particular, I thought it was touching that at the end we all held hands and sung ‘Peace on Earth’ because peace is something that we all want,” said Drayton.

Despite his misgivings, Zion Nwalipenja did stand beside police officers to sing carols, he held their hands during the final song, and he read a speech he had composed thanking the police officers for attending.

“Seeds are being sown,” said his mother. “There’s goodness in everybody.”

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