Grounded in the belief that a sound police department is at the core of any municipality, members of the Afro American Police Association (AAPA) are rock-solid sure that the group – now 40 years old – is still vitally relevant for the sake and safety of the City of Memphis.
This weekend, the AAPA will celebrate its 40th Anniversary.
President Chris Price says the AAPA's unity is still fed by its founders' commitment. While racism is less of an overt influence, the current AAPA leans heavily on its history to maintain its commitment and morale.
"The steps that James Bolden and his colleagues took to level the playing field within a very unfair police department was nothing less than amazing," said Price. "We must always remember the great sacrifice of those who put their necks on the line so (that) we today may reap many benefits.
"I want to challenge all who understand the struggle to not fade away because you are where you want to be in this department, but to reach back and lend a hand to those standing behind you," he said. "Help hold the foundation together that others built so you can stand on. Remember that if the walls of our association ever fall, let it not be because the brick you were holding was weak."
In addition to Bolden, the AAPA's founders were Clyde Buford, Clifton Dates Jr., Charles Logan, Curtis Mull and Van Fields. And everyone connected to the organization credits U.J. Toney as one of the members who kept the fire burning while anchoring its mission.
A concluding church service this weekend at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood will return the AAPA to the original founding spot. It is there, according to Vice President Tyrone Currie, that the church's pastor, the Rev. James Netters (who also made history as the city's first elected black councilman), presided over the group's official inception, along with the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Founding member Dates is known to many in Memphis for building his former company, CDA Security, into one of the largest and best-known African-American businesses in the city.
"It was 1968. I was in the Air Force, serving as a Load Commander on a C-133, flying supply missions into Thailand and Vietnam. I had been doing that for about ten years. Because of the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination, there was a serious recruit program for the police department that allowed me to discharge early if I joined the police department. So I did," said Dates.
There was a lot of ugliness dressed in MPD blue in those days. Dates and his co-horts fought back in a manner that would have a long-term affect.
"The seven of us that came together to form the AAPA wanted to create a method for communication to the department's upper echelon. You still had discriminatory practices as a daily fact in the department and everywhere else," said Dates.
"We tried to do something to stop the police brutality against people in our community and to bring the community together to educate ourselves on how not to become a victim."
Dates said a real benefit has been the value-added effect the AAPA created for female officers trying to build careers with MPD.
"Just being women, they bring something different and smarter to the table. Women are so much more thoughtful, having more of a grasp with how to deal with the world, less of the (macho) overreaction when dealing with people," he said.
"The AAPA brought a lot of issues to the table and caused the command to react. I was no different from the regular black man or the other black officers – there were incidents. But I was raised to hold my head high and have always tried to do so. That is the goal of the AAPA and its members."
AAPA 40th Anniversary Weekend line-up
Friday, Aug. 16 – Meet and Greet, 6 p.m.-1 a.m.. AAPA Office, 1391 Ferguson.
Saturday, Aug. 17 – AAPA Black-Tie Gala honoring founders, accomplishments and trailblazers; Airport Conference Hotel, 2240 Democrat Rd.; 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 18 – Worship service at 10 a.m. at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westside, 620 Parkrose.