What would you say to a police officer?

Guest Blog by Teaching Artists: Sara Graybeal, Rebeccah Ulm, and Kris Smith

What would you say to a police officer? This is the question that middle school students at Southwark School have chosen to wrestle with for their creative action project as part of The Art of Growing Leaders (AGL) program.

Beginning in October 2015, in partnership with Sunrise of Philadelphia, ArtWell students spent 20 weeks reflecting on their individual identities and ultimately, their shared leadership. Starting with a collective brainstorming and visioning process, ArtWell teaching artists Sara Graybeal and Rebeccah Ulm invited students to reflect on their community with questions such as “What makes your community strong?” and “What would you like to see in your community that you are not seeing?”  

For the students at Southwark, their unanimous vote allowed the need for “better trained police officers” to become the topic of their creative action project.

After more thorough exploration of this topic of the role of police officers through questions such as “What are police for?” and “What experiences do you want police to know about you/your family/your community?,” the students began to determine how they would express these ideas through art. With the help of Sara and Rebeccah, students came up with two ways to express themselves: 1.) They would create skits to portray different interactions with police and 2.) They would write a statement and then work in pairs to photograph self-portraits to match their statement.

At their culminating event in March 2016, we were lucky to witness their skits, photos and statements on display at Southwark.

Here are some of their individual statements and photo responses:


We walk in FEAR because of our looks



I need you, you need me



To some police: Great job!

To other police: Bad job yo. Stop, dude.



We need police to protect us, so do the right thing!


These statements and their skits portrayed the complicated views that our world holds today with themes surrounding questions such as which crimes should get attention, and what it can look like when a police officer does their job well. It is a glimpse into our world through the eyes of our young leaders.

Now we invite you to consider the question: What would you say to a police officer?

The Art of Growing Leaders is an expansion of our long-running rites of passage program, The Art of Growing Up. Through mask-making, poetry and multi-disciplinary arts, students build trust with one another and explore their identity and aspirations, inspired by cross-cultural coming of age traditions. Later in the program, students identify their unique strengths as leaders and work together on a social action project using art for advocacy and activism.