Model pretty, wicked smart, and genuinely kind, Dr. Kideste Yusef is a triple threat. A role model in society, not only is she the Associate Professor and Department Chair of Criminal Justice at B-CU, she serves as the Director for the Center for Law and Social Justice at Bethune-Cookman University. Featured in the Cultuvue Photography Exhibition, her work and contributions to the community are getting noticed.

She recently received a Presidential Gold Volunteer Service Award in recognition of 500 hours of service to the U.S.

In between traveling to Washington DC, where she assisted in interviewing and presenting to the Miss Black USA pageant contestants over the weekend, she shares more about the honor and the project.

“This was bestowed on behalf of my work with the 400 Years of African American History Commission “I Fear for My Life” federal initiative which establishes a national dialogue between African American college students and police centered on theme of mutual fear,” said Dr. Yusef.

FNW: Can you share more about the project and why it is so important to you?

KY: Given the global impact of the murder of George Floyd and other incidents of police violence which disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities, the IFFML initiative offers a nuanced yet dynamic approach to connect college students primarily attending HBCUs with police officers that serve their communities. Given my 20-year career has been dedicated to examining the challenges that exist between law enforcement and communities of color and working toward collaborative solutions, I feel extremely honored to be leading Phase Two of this project. How police officers engage with the public influences not only public views of the justice system, but of the government, healthcare, and education systems more broadly as well as other quality of life factors.

FNW: How does it help you as an educator better prepare your students and expand their understanding of the challenges they could or will face as African Americans? 

KY: Criminal Justice is often one of the three most popular majors at HBCUs alongside Business and Psychology degrees. About a third of my majors are interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement be it federal, state, or local. Preparing the next generation of social and criminal justice leaders is a core objective of both the Master’s in Criminal Justice Administration and Undergraduate Criminal Justice programs at Bethune-Cookman University. Understanding the impacts of institutional racism and discrimination in every area of American life, including our juvenile and criminal justice systems, will provide students with a keen awareness of the challenges that lie ahead while providing them with the tools to overcome them and work toward creating greater equity and access for others.

FNW: How do you think we can further open the lines of communication between Black youth and law enforcement and create mutual respect for one another?

KY: We have to get young people of color and diverse groups of officers in the same room in non-enforcement, supportive environments and facilitate conversations. It seems simple but humanizing each other goes a long way toward improving relationships. This does not mean the culture and institution of policing doesn’t need restructuring but thankfully we don’t have to adopt a this or that approach and can work toward reform at many levels.

FNW: Locally, are there any things that can be done to foster relationships between the African American community and law enforcement? 

KY: We started phase 2 in Daytona Beach at B-CU, while the particulars of a community influences the challenges they face, in this work there are many things that are consistent. Trust, developing human and social capital, training and education, and proper policy and procedural oversight are all important in creating sustained change. Activities and policies centered on these things can be successful in Volusia, Flagler, and surrounding counties. In fact, some of our law enforcement partners are deeply committed to improving these relationships.

FNW: In your studies and participation, have you found an ideal community that could serve as a role model for others across the nation? 

KY: I don’t think there’s an ideal community. Different departments have been successful with various initiatives. However, it takes a long-term commitment and not one and done activities to produce real changes and improvements to these relationships.

FNW: What does it mean to you personally to be recognized for your service and do you feel like a role model for your students?

KY: I am honored to be deeply engaging in this work in communities across the country while also having the ability to teach and develop young people. To be recognized by The White House through the 400 Years of African American History Commission for my commitment and service to doing what I’m most passionate about is surreal. All praises to Our Creator. In terms of being a role model, most definitely. At least once a week I get a call, text, or message from one of my students thanking me or sharing some new life milestone, that is the real reward. In 20 years, I know I have reached thousands of young people- that is the highest honor.