It’s a hot August day in Providence. Campaign Zero has just released a platform of demands the #BlackLivesMatter movement sees as tenable demands to reform the police and judicial system. I meet with activist Kobi Dennis at his office at the Broad Street Salvation Army for an interview. He is welcoming and open to all discussion, very giving of his time, but he is also meeting up with me following another community meeting. This is an individual who is about action rather than rhetoric.
At 44, Dennis has lived through a tumultuous era. The War on Drugs, crack cocaine, HIV/AIDS, and the school-to-prison pipeline were all major developments in the lives of men of color who came of age when he did. After serving in the Navy, he returned to Rhode Island, where he got married, had three children, and studied at Rhode Island College and University of Rhode Island.
He is the founder of Project: Night Vision and has worked with the Partnership to Address Violence through Education (PAVE), a group that works to prevent youth involvement in violent activity. And though he has developed good relationships with the leadership of the Providence Police Department, these relationships have not kept him out of the headlines. In April, Dennis and several other parents filed a complaint against the gun task force that had harassed his son and other young men one evening. The reprimand by Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare earned the complainants the description of “politically-motivated and biased radical activists” from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3. We discussed the matter in our interview and his feelings about the police force.
For years, the advances made by people of color have been based around the activism and community organizing of men and women who are willing to step to the forefront and take on the role of leadership. Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are just some of the individuals who come to mind. What defined their careers was a down-to-earth, practical approach that integrated theory with hands-on work among the people. Dennis strikes me as someone who is headed towards such standing in the near future.
During our conversation, we discussed everything from the new Midnight Basketball program to police recruitment policies to his feelings about working in the non-profit sector. Dennis presents a set of items that are practical yet also would have profound change on both Providence and the state. The onus is now upon the large community to consider these steps and work to implement them in a real timetable. We shall remain interested in both steps the General Assembly will take and where Dennis’s career will take him.