Rhonda Turner, chair of the 1st Houston Black Law Enforcement Officers Weekend, spearheaded a recent effort that brought African American officers together in Houston for a weekend of relaxation and relationship building.
Nearly 300 officers from across the country registered for the event, some from as far away as Los Angeles, representing 80 Black Law Enforcement Organization (BLEO) groups.
The Houston event was inspired by the launch of a Facebook group by an African American police officer from Louisiana who created the page to network with Black law enforcement officers from around the nation.
“It went from a small group to over 6,000 people and in a year’s time several socials have been held in different cities, and last year around September, I decided it was time for Houston to do something,” shared Turner.
After six months of planning, the event kicked off on Thursday night, April 6, at the The Westin Houston Memorial City with a Red, White and Boots Meet & Greet opened by the Houston Police Honor Guard and featuring special guest Se7en the Poet. The 4-day event included night life excursions in the Houston’s Museum District area, visits to Houston hot spots and eateries as well as a day of activities in Kemah, culminating with a Pray 4 Police gathering on Sunday, April 9.
“It has been a very positive response and everyone was very receptive to the events planned for the weekend,” said Turner. “We have issues that are unique to officers, and then there are issues that are unique to Black officers and sometimes there is no outlet.
Each participant donned “Pray for Police” wrist bands and red Black Law Enforcement Officer (BLEO) shirts throughout the event as a show of support and bonding with fellow officers.
Houston BLEO committee members included Sgt. Rhonda Turner, SPO Kycha Williamson, Sgt. Rhonda Williams, Deputy Blythe Minneweather and Retired SPO Melba Hogan. The goal for Turner and fellow coordinators was to emphasize the importance of building a bridge of communication and unity and providing an outlet for relaxation for officers.
“We put our lives on the line to protect people we don’t even know and those who may even hate us. But we are dedicated to the oath we took to serve and protect and as a group of black professionals, to have a weekend of fun that’s stress free and full of love and bonding is exactly what each of us need,” said Turner.
HPD senior police officer, Kycha Williamson, a co-chair of the event, attended a similar gathering in Dallas and embraced Turner’s vision to launch an event in the Houston area. “This event gave us an opportunity to interact with each other, be positive, pray for each other and have a good time,” said Williamson.
Turner hopes that future Houston events grow to include seminars and town hall type events to hear the concerns of the community and to address issues on what to do when encountering the police and the importance of knowing the law.
“We wanted to add in conferences and community seminars in Houston so that the black communities could get to see BLEOs in a different light, but the budget and other factors caused us to delay that portion for a future event,” shared Turner.
Event co-chair Rhonda Williams, a fellow HPD sergeant, shares Turner’s vision.
“We want the community to know that we are accessible to them and that we are their friends and that we are people too. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers; we bleed, we feel, we hurt, the same as they do. We should learn how to respect and encourage and uplift each other,” said Williams.
“We want the community to know that we are regular people, with regular lives, working extraordinary jobs, trying to provide for our families,” shared Turner.
Officers had the opportunity to patronize Black businesses throughout the Houston area as a part of the experience.
Platinum sponsors of the event included Galls, Houston Police Officer’s Union and the African American Police Officers League. Additional sponsors included A Community Funeral Home, Houston This Is It, Kroger’s, Southwest Airlines, SAMS Club, Alan Helfman Dodge, among others.