When he’s not on the road, selling out theaters, or filming specials, comedian Dave Chappelle makes his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
It’s a small, mostly white town outside Dayton where Chappelle grew up and went to school. You may recall he returned to Yellow Springs to invite residents to attend his outdoor concert in Brooklyn for "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party." Now the comedian is raising his own kids there. It would be easy to say he’s come full circle, but his heart never really left.
Like many residents, Chappelle was shocked by the events that took place in Yellow Springs on New Year’s Eve.
Following the town’s annual midnight ball drop, people usually clear out on their own. But just minutes into 2017, police drove cruisers through the crowd, sirens wailing. After an intense back-and-forth between partygoers and police, one reveler, David Carlson, who is black, was slammed to the ground by officers. Community members were immediately outraged by the officer’s aggressive tactics. The chief of police resigned days later. And the tight-knit community is still reeling after the incident, which made national news.
In the wake of the incident, Chappelle went to the village council meeting to make an impassioned push for progressive, community policing.
As Yellow Springs prepares to hire a new police chief, the village council held a public meeting March 6, 2017, to address community issues, including police behavior. Chappelle spoke to the council and shared fond memories of the police force he grew up with. But today, Chappelle feels like the officers don’t know Yellow Springs or its residents.
"Now we’re being policed by what feels like an alien force," he told the council.
This wasn’t a call for "the good old days" but instead a plea to build and restore trust from the ground up.
Chappelle pushed for progressive policing, which focuses on relationship building, particularly with law enforcement and communities of color. It’s accomplished through better data collection, improved training, and a focus on recruiting and retaining officers that look like the communities they serve.
"I would beseech the council to look deeply and to look hard. Because … this is a golden opportunity," Chappelle said. "Literally you could kill the game. I mean in this Trump era, there’s an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reigns supreme."
When we get active at the local level, we can all improve our respective corners of the world.
Whether you’re Dave Chappelle and you squeeze in a town hall meeting or two before your Netflix specials come out or you’re Chance the Rapper announcing plans to donate $1 million to the public school system that made you and needs your help or you’re a person reading this on your bus ride home, there’s always something you can do to make an impact in your community. No celebrity status required. We can all build and shape the cities we want, but it starts with showing up.
It may be attending or speaking at a city council meeting. It might be hosting a block party, cleaning up a local park, or making sure local schools have the resources they need. Perhaps it’s voting for policies and referenda that will impact residents for generations to come. These seemingly small acts can make a big difference. And unlike politics at the national level, you’ll likely see a greater and more immediate impact when you get involved at the local level.