Our country is currently seeking ways to spark new conversations that can lead to changes in perceptions about people, bridge differences and break through the barriers that divide us. TRU Colors, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, is providing a national platform for dialogue between the African American community and local law enforcement to change the narrative and promote understanding and unity. TRU Colors is a brewery that hires active, rival gang members who have put their differences aside to come together to help stop gun violence and bring peace to their community.
Since 2017, TRU Colors has been bringing people from across racial and economic divides together by hosting in-person events where people from different backgrounds meet-up and talk to each other over a beer. These “speed dating” events are designed to pair the participants to speak together for a specific period of time before switching to new partners. The events also include ethnically diverse food and musical entertainment. People leave the event realizing that they have much more in common with one another than previously thought.
“We wanted to take this same concept and create a “blueprint” to be a catalyst for peaceful conversations and do our part to help ease the tension between the African American community and local law enforcement,” stated Khalilah Olokunola, EVP of Human Resources. “It’s a way to jump start a needed dialogue to dispel racial stereotypes and acknowledge the view of law enforcement through the eyes of our community. This process also gives space to include all people who support this movement to achieve justice and equality for all,” she further stated.
The “blueprint” starts with encouraging people to watch this video. The video shows a conversation between retired Missouri State Trooper, Ron Johnson, with Olokunola and her colleague Spree, TRU Colors’ Digital Marketing Specialist. In 2014, Johnson became the “face” of law enforcement for Ferguson, Missouri, five days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr. ignited massive protests and riots throughout the city. Their conversation provides honest talk about the pain of systemic racism and the impact it has had on them. Johnson speaks about it both as a father and as a member of law enforcement; and Olokunola and Spree, on their family, friends, and community.
Due to the restrictions limiting in-person group interactions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, TRU Colors is creating a virtual “gathering around the table” by inviting people after they watch the video to post a :30 video response to this conversation ice-breaker, imagining you are gathered with others for a sit-down discussion:
“I would like others sitting around the table to know this one thing about me…”
The “blueprint” provides the ability for everyone to be seen and heard. “We’ve got to have real conversations with people. We need to sit at the table and have those conversations to build empathy and understanding so we can work together. It’s going to take everybody to fix these issues that divide us,” said Spree.
The company believes that by carefully listening to how others want to be perceived it can encourage meaningful conversation and instill compassion, empathy, and honesty to reveal common ground with everyone sitting around the (virtual) table. Such conversations are a crucial step in working toward understanding a person’s motivations, history, and point-of-view in working to bridge differences.
“What I like about TRU Colors, is the fact that while the program involves gang members, its focus is not on the word “gang” but the impact of the word “leader.” And that the leader has a chance to influence and create positive change. By providing this platform, the men are doing their part to change their community and perceptions in the way we see each other,” said Johnson.
George Taylor, the founder of TRU Colors, spent three years getting to know gangs after a gang-related drive by shooting took place near his office. He wanted to understand their purpose and draw, and what drove the violence. What started as outrage, evolved into a series of conversations, and eventually into understanding, trust, and a business opportunity: TRU Colors. “Real conversations are tough as hell. They might make people feel uncomfortable or angry, but real conversation changes perceptions and allows us to find common ground,” Taylor stated.