Elementary schoolers in an underserved area of Oak Cliff have somewhere safe to go after school to get tutoring. Irving community members have a forum to have honest conversations with law enforcement officers about trust and community issues.
These are a few of the things that Preston Hollow-based One CommunityUSA, founded by Toni Brinker, brings to communities around the country. Brinker is the widower of the late Norman E. Brinker, whose restaurant empire founded Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s and Maggiano’s.
The organization started as Operation Blue Shield after Brinker witnessed an anti-police march on her affluent NYC street, and she thought something needed to be done to better police-community relations.
“I said, ‘Help me put together a campaign to stop what I saw,’” Brinker says. “We need as a nation to recognize that we have problems and move forward, but we’re going to have to do it together. We’re going to have to build some trust. We’re going to have to create some unity. With all problems there are two sides and you have got to bring the two sides together: the citizens and the first responders.”
Brinker reached out to the man who created the “I want my baby back, baby back ribs” slogan at Chili’s to help establish a campaign that sticks in the mind the way that the ribs song does.
Brinker spent over two years traveling across the country and speaking to police chiefs, sheriffs, governors, attorney general, senators, police unions, mothers of children killed by police and gang leaders to understand all sides of the distrust between the two sides, she says.
“That is what our nonprofit does. We have programs built to address contemporary social issues that hurt our nation. Everybody’s got to have a voice. Everyone wants to feel valued,” Brinker says. “We’re not just sitting in a room and talking, we are sitting in a room and talking and leading to action with defined metrics using universities so that our data is empirically tracked quantitatively and qualitatively.”
One CommunityUSA’s biggest programs are Shop Talk, Pathways to H.O.P.E., Community Learning Centers and America’s K9 Heroes.
One CommunityUSA now has programs in 14 major cities across the country partnering with police jurisdictions, the FBI, the DEA and other programs and departments that focus on community safety.
Shop Talk is a community engagement program where One CommunityUSA invests in barbershops or beauty salons in underserved neighborhoods. These shops then serve as a place for police to chat with community members, allowing them to ask questions and have real discussions about issues between first responders and the community.
Pathways to H.O.P.E is a program that helps prepare military veteran and civilian offenders seeking to reenter the workforce after imprisonment. Offenders who are accepted into the program complete a 40-hour classroom curriculum followed by an 18-month Vocational and Leadership program after release.
Community Learning Centers offer learning centers in apartment complexes that are safe, secure after-school areas where students can gather to do homework, read and receive tutoring.
One CommunityUSA also donates police dogs to local jurisdictions. These pups aid officers in removal of narcotics, weapons, zip drives used by sex traffickers, and hostage taking or kidnapping scenarios.