Berea City Administrator David Gregory and Berea College Professor Kennaria Brown were recently honored by the Berea Human Rights Commission (BHRC) when they received the John G. Award for 2019.
In announcing the award at a recent meeting of the Berea City Council, BHRC member Rachel Burnside noted the Fee Award is bestowed every year on a resident or group that has made a significant contribution to "maintaining, improving or expanding human rights" in Berea.
"John G. Fee, the founder of Berea College, believed in equality for all and worked diligently to create an inclusive community. So, we feel like the recipients of this year's award really reflect that," said Burnside.
Gregory and Dr. Brown were honored for facilitating diversity training in the Berea Police Department (BPD) while Gregory was chief, helping officers understand how to best serve a culturally, racially and economically diverse community like Berea.
A communication professor, Brown has been working with the Berea Police Department since 2013, as well as teaching in the Criminal Justice Executive Development (CJED) program at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond.
In her sessions with the BPD, Brown said she focuses on the concept of implicit bias, or bias that people may not even be aware of when they are in a certain situation. By understanding how implicit bias could affect an officer's perception, the training ideally gives them an extra advantage out in the field.
"It's important to be alert to the implicit biases, the assumptions that we make and then act on that can blind all of us in our professions," Brown said "With the police, that can have particularly dire consequences, even before you get to actual life and death. It's one more tool in their cognitive tool kit. They can be aware of implicit bias, then think through actions that they can take to protect their professionalism from implicit bias."
Brown noted that when Gregory was chief of police, he came to her to initiate the training. Every three years since, officers have come back, and Brown said the relationship has been productive.
"That's been one of the things that has always impressed me with the Berea PD since I began working with them in 2013, is a real concern for professionalism. They prioritize professionalism, and they've been good partners over the years," Brown said.
Gregory has since moved on to become Berea's city administrator, but he said being culturally aware, and recognizing biases ahead of time, is important for any organization that strives to serve a diverse community well.
"A good leader within any organization needs to recognize the importance of diversity within their workforce and the people we serve. It's important to understand the dynamics of our community," Gregory said. "Just from a police perspective, it helps us develop better relationships so that maybe members of the community will come forward and give us information when we need it."
So far, the training seems to have had a positive impact, since there have been fewer reported problems over the last six years. "I think we're seeing the results. Complaints have gone down," said Gregory.
BHRC Chair Mim Pride said the award is important because it recognizes those who are striving to make positive change in the community.
"Not every chief would support and encourage the members of his department to get this kind of training that Chief Gregory initiated," Pride said. "I think it's very exciting that they created this partnership, and I think it has made a difference. It's a privilege for us to be able to honor people like this and hold them up to the community. This really is a national model for what can be done."
As for the two award recipients, they expressed appreciation for the other.
"I'm just honored. John G. Fee was a man who was so far ahead of his time, so when I learned of him, he immediately became a hero. To receive an award with his name, and with a partner [Gregory] who has backed me in so many ways and has been so supportive, it's an honor all around," Brown said.
Gregory added, "It's an honor from the community, and I am honored to be associated with Dr. Brown and the training that she has done. It's a partnership, it's not about me. It's about what we have all done, and how it will affect the city in the next 20-30 years."