Social Justice Game Changer: Dr. Kideste Yusef

by Josh Cohen

Name: Dr. Kideste Yusef

Game Honored: Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics (5/5/21)

On April 10, the Orlando Police Department and several community leaders, including Dr. Kideste Yusef, went door-to-door in Parramore introducing the officers who patrol the neighborhood to residents.

This was a huge step toward building more trust and mutual respect between local law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.

This initiative was part of Orlando Police’s “Adopt a Block” program, in which police officers and city officials meet with residents of the Parramore community, talk with them, get to know them, and make them feel safe and appreciated.

Empowering Parramore’s residents, providing them with the resources they need to solve their neighborhood’s problems and creating affable dialogue between they and the police are critical, says Yusef, an assistant professor of criminal justice and the chair of the Department of Justice and Political Studies at Bethune-Cookman University.

With decades of experience working with police departments and residents to enhance collective efficacy and improve community-police relations in vulnerable communities, Yusef has seen firsthand the difference it makes when there’s community comraderie. Most recently, she co-facilitated community stakeholder training sessions and community safety and engagement action plan workshops for the Parramore, Washington Shores, and Mercy Drive communities of Orlando.

“It’s teaching community members what the roles and responsibility are of law enforcement as well as what the roles and responsibility of community members are about the history of policing and then bring both groups together and create an action plan for different environments,” said, who also serves as the assistant director of the B-CU Center for Law and Social Justice. “We all deserve regardless of our economic status, our racial status to live in communities where we feel safe and we don’t feel apprehensive or fearful when we see police.”

April 10’s Adopt a Block initiative was the first of what expects to be many community-relation activities in Parramore to increase that communication between police and residents. The idea was originally discussed in one of Parramore’s community engagement trainings, also attended by the Orlando Magic’s Steve Clifford and Michael Carter-Williams, who offered their suggestions and guidance.

While she knows it’s going to take time, the fact that more conversations are taking place, more organizations are getting involved in community outreach programs and more people are willing to think creativity and constructively on ways to improve conditions, Yusef believes we are starting to head in the right direction.

“I think that it’s slowly changing,” she said. “I think the fact that during George Floyd’s trial there were so many police officers at higher levels outright saying this was unlawful, this is not the proper use of force, this was not what’s in line with police practices and policies. And we haven’t really had that. The turnaround time for police officers who engage in misconduct being held accountable is starting to change.”

Yusef describes the feeling when she sees people’s perspectives changing as like “an exhale.” From both sides of the spectrum, it’s a boost for the community when people show respect for others and work together on solutions.

Yusef, who joined the faculty at Bethune-Cookman University in 2016, has over 18 years of university teaching experience including undergraduate and graduate courses in Criminal Justice, Sociology, and African American and African Studies. It brings her incredible joy to help young people reach their full potential. One of her objectives is to increase the number of African Americans and other students of color pursue careers in the areas of law enforcement, the legal profession, juvenile justice, and corrections. She earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice and M.A. in Applied Sociology from Old Dominion University, as well as a M.S. and Ph.D. in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Law, Policy, and Practice from The Graduate Center/John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Having organizations like the Magic be so active in the community and be a positive influence on others is uplifting, Yusef adds. The team’s contributions have meant a lot to her and she feels they are making a major difference on the development of our community, especially when it comes to making impactful and sustainable change.

“It’s paramount. The Orlando Magic in earnest has been at the table in these conversations with us for a while now and I think there are very few sports teams as committed to this process and this journey,” she said. “Coach Clifford has been on calls with us with the Jacksonville Jaguars trying to establish an agency scholarship for policing, to create more police officers that’s being headed by Bethune-Cookman. He’s reached out to his networks to bring in other NBA coaches to the table. This is the type of dynamic leadership that is game-changing.”

About the Program: As part of the Magic and Clifford’s continuing efforts toward social justice reform, he created the Social Justice Game Changer program to honor one local leader who has made a difference in the realm of social justice issues. A cause close to his heart, Clifford is extremely active in programs that support equality and justice for all people in the Central Florida community.

Through this program, Clifford looks to put the spotlight on those continuously doing the hard work, day in and day out, fighting for sustainable change. As part of his program, one person is selected and honored each game. The honorees are given tickets, provided by Clifford, to the game and featured in-arena on the Magic Vision screen at center court.

“The purpose is to honor and to celebrate so many of the people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and who commit their lives to making Orlando a better place,” Clifford said. “It’s just a way to celebrate them, what they stand for, and what they do for our community.”

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