By Audrey Lynch
Talk A Mile is a non-profit organization in SE Portland that strives to create opportunities to foster positive conversations between young Black leaders and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers and trainees. At each Talk A Mile event, participants gather in public parks to walk a mile together while responding to prompts about themselves, their experiences and the Portland community in general. The fifth, and latest Talk A Mile event took place on Tuesday, November 28, at Laurelhurst Park. 26 young Black leaders and 26 PPB trainees attended.
Talk A Mile was founded by Justin, Erika and Liam Fogarty, a biracial family from SE Portland. Following the summer of 2020, in which many racial justice demonstrations took place in Portland, the Fogartys noticed an increased need for conversations about policing. Justin Fogarty explains that, “We saw an opportunity to elevate the voices of young Black leaders, many of whom may not be the loudest voices in the room, but who have a great deal to gain or lose in these conversations.” Subsequently, the Fogarty family founded the Talk A Mile organization to focus on these missing voices and create “one-on-one conversations where people could be seen and heard,” he stated.
Talk A Mile’s primary focus is on Black high school students and PPB trainees. As Fogarty explains, “Students will go off and continue to grow as leaders in the community…trainees are just learning to protect the community, and they might continue on in law enforcement for 25 years.” Nevertheless, while younger PPB participants are most common, the organization has expanded opportunistically, having the then-PPB Chief Chuck Lovell, PPB Policy team and Multnomah County officials participate in Talk A Mile events.
At every Talk A Mile event, participants receive prompts coordinated to each lap of the mile they will walk. The first lap consists of general questions, providing the chance for the newly paired up individuals to get to know each other. On the second lap, the police officer or trainee shares their story. As stated on the Talk A Mile website, talkamile.org, they answer questions such as “When did you decide to become a police officer?,” “Why Portland?” and “Tell me about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training you’ve received.” Then, the third lap provides a chance for the Black student or community member to share their perspectives and experiences. Their prompts are along the lines of “What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?” and “From your perspective, what are some things to be mindful of in regard to the Black experience in Portland?” The fourth and final lap focuses on shared futures, hopes for the community and seeing the similarities between each other’s responses.
Following each Talk A Mile event, the organization asks participants to complete a survey to reflect on their experience and feelings going into and leaving the conversations. Survey data reveals that 97.1 percent of 132 participants stated that they felt “seen and heard” after the event, according to Talk A Mile.
Survey responses also revealed that many participants were eager to continue the conversations they had started, which sparked the idea for an alumni event. On Thursday, December 28, past participants of Talk A Mile events gathered at a Portland Trail Blazers game. 45 alumni were expected to attend and were admitted early to walk and talk before enjoying the game together.
Fogarty explains that he hopes to perfect the organization and events in Portland, eventually branching out to other cities. He also wishes to welcome additional Portland schools and Black Student Unions to the Talk A Mile events.
Many past participants of Talk A Mile have shared their thoughts on the events they’ve attended; some of their quotes are featured on the Talk A Mile website. These quotes include one from a PPB Trainee who shares, “I think this was a wonderful workshop for both [the] youth of the Black community and [PPB] officers. This should be mandatory for officers across the nation.” A Black student also shares that, “Although you might not always see change happening, there is effort to change happening little by little.” Both quotes further uplift Talk A Mile’s impactful mission in SE Portland.
Many important conversations can be fostered in the time it takes to walk a mile; Talk A Mile is utilizing this to bring meaningful discussions and understanding to participants about themselves and the future. Fogarty shares that his favorite part of hosting Talk A Mile events is seeing “people engaged in conversations, connected in the moment and not distracted by other things.” These conversations allow for participants to truly connect as people and be vulnerable, helping them acquire a better sense of each other and the community.
PPB Assistant Chief Chuck Lovell participated in an April event. Photo by Jacobsen Valentine.