PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland-based organization is working to build positive relationships between young black men and law enforcement officers.

Members of the group “Word is Bond” learn important leadership skills to help them change their lives and their communities.

They spend time with Portland Police, learning what it means to be a law enforcement officer and having tough conversations on policing.

Word is Bond members also meet with Mayor Ted Wheeler to submit recommendations.

“We break down the walls, we take off the mask and we get to see each other as individuals,” said Hillsboro Police Officer Joey Edwards.

The Word is Bond summer program wrapped up on Friday. Eleven young men ranging from high school- to college-age gathered to share their testimonies and experiences during a community showcase.

“I used to think probably how every other teenager feels: ‘cops are bad and only here to kill us, it’s not a good time when they are around’ or something like that,” said community ambassador Jaizion Propps. “But now I see they just have a job to do: help make this a better place not only for me but for themselves.”

Officers who participate with the program said they’ve felt the impact, too.

“I have walked away with this hope and excitement that there is a new paradigm in policing,” said Officer Edwards. “These young men are incredibly brave because they are taking the conversation we should be broaching as individuals, as police officers, as professionals.”

Word is Bond member spend time with Portland Police officers. (Courtesy of Word is Bond)

Word is Bond Executive Director Lakayana Drury hopes the model program will soon expand to impact other communities.

“Black men have been disenfranchised for a long time so giving them that platform to say ‘I have lived experience that I can use to make a difference in my community’ is huge,” Drury said.

Drury has big goals for Word is Bond.

“Make this a nationally-recognized program — how to change the narrative of young black men and law enforcement and what does community policing look like and, for me, community policing looks like young black men taking the lead and making the change and humanizing both sides of the story.”

Drury’s hope for the future is shared by community ambassador Ja’mari Etherly whose perspective has changed since joining Word is Bond.

“It made me realize change can happen,” Etherly said. “I believe that with programs like this, it will go nationwide and eventually all police officers and the black community will get along.”

Learn more about Word is Bond