Choreographer and local arts leader Dominic Moore-Dunson remembers walking through the Summit Metro Parks area in the Merriman Valley when he was 16 in Firestone High School.
A policeman stopped him, he recalls, while he was driving the speed limit. The black teenager was told to get out of the car and asked many questions about where he was going and why he was there.
A week later, while traveling as a passenger with a white friend, she was stopped by the same officer for speeding in the same area. He recalls feeling “a little scared to death on the passenger side and not saying anything, trying to be invisible”. His 16-year-old white friend who was driving cried and was fired with a warning by the officer.
Artist Moore-Dunson, now 32, says he’s been arrested by police at least 45 times in his life.
Fast forward years later to early summer 2020. George Floyd’s death weighed heavily on Moore-Dunson’s mind. He and his wife, Ashley, were expecting their first baby and he realized for the first time that he didn’t have to worry only about his own safety, but also that of his unborn son, Maverick.
âAt one point I realized that I am going to have to talk to my black son about the police and I didn’t know how or what to do,â he said.
Moore-Dunson knew one thing, however: âI don’t want to teach my kids out of fear. “
He started talking to black parents in his network of friends and family about what they teach their children about interacting with the police.
âBasically the consensus was that you teach them how to get home,â he said.
The recurring theme was security, so the artist continued to ask people about the contentious relationship with the police in the black community and what security means to them.
It was then that the seeds of Moore-Dunson’s current project, “inCOPnegro”, were born. He’s collaborating with an interdisciplinary cast of five artists to create an evening of dance and podcast that explores the concept of security through the prism of storytelling, parenting and police relations in black communities.
Its co-creators are playwright and actress Maya Nicholson, composer and musician Chris Coles, assistant choreographer and dancer Kevin Parker Jr. and hip hop musician Floco Torres.
“We are all black artists. We blend our different art forms to create whatever we are in the process of creating,” Moore-Dunson said of the work, which mixes dance with jazz music, hip hop and monologues.
Moore-Dunsono and his team created the studio work for about six months at the National Center for Choreography – Akron (NCCAkron) at Guzzetta Hall at Akron University. The development of “inCOPnegro” is supported by NCCAkron, Akron Reimagining the Civic Commons, Akron Community Foundation and Akron Soul Train.
They will present an ongoing screening of “inCOPnegro” which will be open to the public at 7pm on December 8 at Guzzetta Hall’s Studio 194, 228 E. Buchtel Ave. The performance is free but RSVPs are requested at nccakron.org / event-details / incopnegro.
As part of the event, attendees will receive a coupon to try Moore-Dunson’s ice cream flavor, inCONEnegro, in downtown Chill Artisan Ice Cream. Its new flavor is chocolate ice cream with pieces of chocolate coated waffle cones.
Artist interviews residents, police for the project
Moore-Dunson interviewed people for his plan to learn stories from people on both sides of the “blue line,” with the goal of getting as many people as possible into the conversation. His main question as a new black father was, “How do we raise our children in a world where their safety is a threat every day?”
The artist interviewed former white and black police officers from the region, as well as active police officers from out of state. Other people interviewed included an Akron High School football coach, a black landscaper, a city council member and a black female CPA. They all spoke about their experiences and their idea of ââsecurity.
Among their responses, one respondent said: “Safety means protecting people, making them feel like they have a sense of freedom.”
And one woman interviewed said: âSafety means being able to live in your own skin without being afraid. “
After listening to and dissecting the interviews, Moore-Dunson and his ensemble extracted key themes in the studio. Among them, they explore how lack of security breeds isolation.
âSecurity should be a human right,â Moore-Dunson said, emphasizing another theme. “Everyone deserves safety.”
Why the title in COPnegro?
So how did the name âinCOPnegroâ come about?
Shortly after Floyd’s death in 2020, Moore-Dunson saw three black cops walking together down the main street in downtown Akron and he began to think about the game between black and ‘blue’.
âIt’s a really interesting picture to me that I’ve never paid attention to – black people who are also police officers,â Moore-Dunson said. “The day after George Floyd was murdered, when they were supposed to go to work, how did they feel when they put on their uniforms?”
The artist wondered if these officers felt like they didn’t fit into the black or blue community – if they felt like they were incognito. These reflections led to the creation of the title “inCOPnegro”.
Moore-Dunson and his wife recently welcomed another family member – baby girl Naomi, born in October.
âOnce I had Naomi, I had the same feeling: now I have to teach someone else about the police, potentially from another point of view,â the artist said.
More importantly, he said, he will have to explain to Naomi that she is not invisible in this society and that she has a voice in the security conversation.
Collect more stories
Moore-Dunson’s fully completed work is scheduled to premiere in the winter or spring of 2023. He will continue to collect stories from the community over the next year or so. There is no prerequisite for who can call or write to share their safety stories.
âIt’s about connecting communities to a much larger conversation that is obviously very close to our hearts,â he said.
Moore-Dunson said the work, which is in the experimental stage, aims to uncover emotional truths in his December 8 performance. And he knows his dance-theater piece completed in 2023 could be very different from his current work in progress.
Through the community’s first-hand accounts of racial injustice and the impact of policing, Moore-Dunson aims to continue to deepen the safety conversation to find out the whereabouts of all kinds of people.
“I think one of the things art can do is have a really engaging conversation, and because it’s art and because it’s pretty abstract, it lets people appreciate it. without automatically blaming, pointing fingers, arguing political sides, because that opens it up beyond that, âhe said.
Arts and food writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]
Share your story
Dominic Moore-Dunson asks audience members to contribute a specific story related to safety, parenting, and law enforcement.
Call or SMS: Moore-Dunson at 330-439-4500. Contributors can add their voice to a public podcast or remain anonymous.
Write: Submit your story anonymously at incopnegro.com.
Connect: Schedule a meeting with Moore-Dunson to share your story directly on Zoom by finding a schedule on incopnegro.com.