The first Unity in the Community drew a large crowd for a day of fun with law enforcement officers. (Chloe Herring/WINK News)
FORT MYERS, Fla. – 600 pounds of chicken. 1,000 hot dogs. 25 children’s bikes and an entire year of planning.
Those are some of the things local filmmaker Curtis Collins said it took to pull off a community event in Dunbar on Saturday.
Parked cars lined the streets outside the Fort Myers STARS Complex, a youth recreational center off Edison Avenue, where hundreds of children played under the supervision of parents and law enforcement officers.
Collins organized the event, Unity in the Community, as a way to thank officers for assisting him with his latest film project.
“The Fort Myers Police Department and the Lee County sheriff were so into helping me out with my film by providing me with street closures, using the jail, inside the jail, so I wanted to do something special for them,” he said.
While the large crowds enjoyed food and music, face painting, sports and giveaways, Collins said he was most proud of the interaction he saw between local law enforcement officers and residents.
FMPD Interim Chief Dennis Eads attended the event alongside deputies from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol. Dressed in a shirt that read “Unity” in big capital letters, Eads even participated in an intense game of kickball against a group of student athletes.
“It feels good to see,” Collins said. “I mean, you don’t want to pat yourself on the back and say ‘Hey, you know you did a good thing’ but — how often do you see the police officers walking around having conversations with the community?” he said. “Intellectual, peaceful conversations. Not often at all. Not often, especially here.”
“It was a good event. You’d have a hard time finding anyone who’d say it wasn’t and if you did, shame on them,” he said.
The event was largely sponsored by South Florida Milling. Collins approached the company’s owner, Daniel Banks, for help.
“You know this is a start. This somewhere we can start building the community. The community doesn’t trust the police. You know, there’s a disconnect somewhere in that. So when he asked me to start contributing to it, we got behind him and made today happen basically,” Banks said.
Unity in the Community was an opportunity for officers to step away from their jobs to make personal connections with residents, Collins said.
“Not to say anything bad about our police officers, ‘cause it’s not, but you can’t get to know somebody when you’re driving through a neighborhood and you see them on the street,” he said. “Here they’re having a dialogue and it’s not a bad dialogue. They’re actually communicating and that’s what we needed to do. So I think we did that.”
Collins hopes to expand Unity in the Community next year, building it into an annual event.