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Year of Unity presented by community leaders

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 2/13/2017, 11 p.m.
Dallas city leaders and officials say they have been scrambling for solutions to mend the relationship between local residents and ...
St. Paul UMC Senior Pastor Richie Butler, Project Unity founder, presents Year of Unity, Jan. 24. Behind him, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Mayor Mike Rawlings. DFW Year of Unity Facebook page

The Dallas Examiner

Dallas city leaders and officials say they have been scrambling for solutions to mend the relationship between local residents and police officers since the July 2016 Dallas police shooting by a single sniper.

As a result, Rev. Richie Butler, senior pastor of St. Paul UMC and founder of Project Unity, an organization formed in response to the Black community’s concern about police brutality, took action.

On Jan. 24, Butler, along with Mayor Mike Rawlings, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Michelle Carter, President Michael Sorrell of Paul Quinn College; Dr. Brian Williams, UT Southwestern; and others held a news conference at Belo Mansion to announce their new movement, The Year of Unity. Also known as The YOU, the campaign will host specific programs to champion the improvement of race relations.

“A team that is divided cannot win,” Butler said.

The YOU will place an intentional spotlight on the growing distrust and division between various institutions, the police department, political systems and minority communities.

“We’re not here to sing Kumbaya, but we believe if we came together and focus on building relationships we’ll learn to trust each other and work together,” Butler said.

Organizers aim to unite Dallas through numerous programs for an entire year that will emphasize the project’s four pillars: community building, dialogue, education and empowerment.

“Fundamentally, we are all different; Fundamentally, we all come from different background and experiences,” said Rob Crain, Dallas Bar Association president and Unity ambassador. “That’s why we think differently. That’s the way God made us. The only way to understand why somebody else thinks the way they do is to open our minds and our hearts and learn.”

The movement works closely with leaders from various group segments such as grassroots, faith, business and local political heads, like honorary chairman, former president George W. Bush. However, the group is a nonpartisan coalition that is specifically for the community and not government-run.

“This is not about politics,” Butler explained. “There is no political affiliations tied into this, but it’s my hope to raise the political discourse from divisiveness to recognizing we are all the same, and we must work like we are on the same team.”

To jump-start the program, Rawlings plans to speak with different people in the area to better understand what is necessary to fix systemic problems and end the division.

“My first step is to break bread with people I usually don’t break bread with,” he said. “We’re going to come together and we are going to learn about each other.”

While The YOU strategy is essential, questions have been raised regarding why the initiative suddenly began after the Downtown Dallas shooting when the division has been around for years. In 2015, Dallas was recorded as the third-ranked city in the nation with the highest rate of fatal police shootings, which had been mostly African American victims for six years, according a study conducted by the Better Government Association.

“This is not our first conversation. This is not our first time bring it to the floor,” Butler expressed. “Sometimes tragedy and things that occur in our lives will cause us to evaluate and move in a direction to reflect on some things. Year of Unity is broader than just the police. It’s about race relations.”

For more information, visit http://www.yearofunity.com.