On Fridays, Shawnette Myers loads the goodie bags in her car and drives over to Randolph Park Elementary School, whose exquisitely manicured campus sits amid one of Anniston’s poorest neighborhoods, an oasis of the possible.
Myers is a Marine and a mentor. As a Marine, she deployed to Japan. As a mentor, she’s one of the people trying to make a difference in Anniston’s schools.
The goodie bags are for the birthday club Myers began last year. Inside the bags she packs pencils, candy, knick-knacks and slime — yes, slime — and gives them to fourth- and fifth-graders who’ve celebrated birthdays that week.
She’s also a cop — Cpl. Shawnette Myers, one of the Anniston Police Department’s two school resource officers.
“I have elementary school children, and these children (at Randolph Park) are my children,” she said Thursday morning. “I treat them as if they were my own. I have a couple who run around here and call me mama. They are all my babies.”
Myers, a former patrol officer, keeps a clear plastic container in the back seat of her car. When she showed it to me in the school parking lot, out came a green frog, a blue bunny, a white puppy, a unicorn with a pink tail, a brown bear with a green cap, a white penguin and an assortment of other stuffed animals — and, of course, slime.
My guess is most APD cars don’t feature packages of children’s slime; Myers’ may be the only one. But it’s common for officers to store stuffed animals alongside their other gear. Some days you need a weapon, other days a fluffy toy.
On this, APD isn’t a trailblazer, mind you. It’s common for police departments to keep stuffed animals on hand to calm young children. Last week, Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Weaver even donated several boxes and trash bags full of stuffed animals to Anniston police.
“It’s just something that we do to help,” Myers said. “If a child is upset or if we’re not responding to any calls and we see some kids out there, it’s a way for us to interact with them. It’s just part of community policing.”
(Don’t take my advice, but the next time an APD officer stops you for speeding, ask if he or she has a green frog or blue bunny in the back seat. Tension-breaker, perhaps.)
Back at Randolph Park, Myers admits that she borrowed the idea to start a birthday club from APD Cpl. Donald McGraw, a veteran school resource officer who has held pizza parties for the best-behaved classes at Tenth Street Elementary School.
Myers stuffs the goodie bags with items she buys in bulk online from Amazon.com. Last year’s bill came to about $1,000, she said.
Myers paid for it.
Which made me uncomfortable.
What did I do last year?
“Sometimes with kids, they won’t see (police) at our best,” Myers said. “We don’t always have our best smiles on. Sometimes, they’ll see us yell or unfortunately take someone to jail. But here I have the opportunity to put my best smile on, to interact with children, and to love on them.
“I’m a positive role model and that’s what I try to be, a role model for all of the students.”
Students like Randolph Park’s Elissa Brown, Jayden Brown (no relation) and Ke’Tara Fitten, who, along with their classmates, “really respond to her, they just gravitate to her,” said Principal Teresia Hall. “I do believe it is because she is a female, her personality is a little bit different, and she talks about a lot of different things, their school work, their classwork, and how they should behave.”
Plus, Myers — a Marine, a former military police officer, a former Anniston patrol officer — isn’t naive to the realities of modern-day policing in a city with a sometimes tangled relationship between its law enforcers and its black residents. Anniston’s Police Department has a Citizens Advisory Committee for a reason.
Real or perceived, a barrier exists. Green frogs and blue bunnies won’t dissolve it, but it’s a start, a sincere grassroots attempt.
“For (the students) it’s gratitude, you are giving them something,” Myers said. “They remember you, they don’t forget police. It helps with community policing and building relationships with the community. That’s what it comes down to.”
Anniston’s oases of the possible often are found in unexpected places, the back seats of police cars, in plastic containers filled with stuffed animals, and in the hallways of elementary schools.