PERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) --The senior pastor at New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Roxboro is already making history as the first African-American female pastor in Person County. LaTonya Penny said she's also the first female pastor in the church's long history. Now, she's hoping to bring new firsts to the church and the community by helping build a stronger relationship between the community and its police force.
Last week, Pastor Penny and Roxboro's Police Chief David Hess went knocking on doors, asking people to attend a lunch where police and residents could have an open discussion about the tensions rising nationwide between police and citizens.
"We went door to door, and we got a few people when we said 'free lunch,'" said Penny laughing. She went on to say they could not gain enough interest, though.
"After talking with the chief he and I were walking and talking I said, 'I don't think is the best way to do this, I think we need to take the time to build a relationship,'" said Penny. "You all need to see that we are real people and we need to see that behind those uniforms, you are real people."
So together, they decided to host a Community Cookout and Conversation at the church and invite members of the community, police officers, and clergy.
Church members fired up the grill Wednesday night and cooked more than 300 hot dogs and hamburgers, not knowing how many people to expect. Within the first 30 minutes, the dining hall was full. From police officers to pastors, residents and even state leaders, more than 100 people showed up. They ate their fill of hot dogs and burgers and had an open conversation about relationships between police officers and residents.
"I'm a father, a husband, I just have a different job," said Hess. "It's understandable people have fear when they encounter the police. There's no reason to fear us."
"There's approximately 8,000 residents here in the city and there's only 32 police officers," continued Hess. "We're very blessed here in Roxboro to have great community relationships, and it's important that we get feedback."
"I think we need to start somewhere," said church member Tammie Holloway-Raines. "I know when I get stopped, I'm like 'what do I do?'"
"It's our job to see that each one of our lives, whatever skin tone, whatever kind of background you have, we all have a place at the table," said Penny.
This was a first for this event, and with the positive showing, Hess and Penny say they're planning to do more events like this in the future.
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