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UNL’s “We are Nebraska” interns team up with police officers in Lincoln

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 7:00 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - You may have heard the phrase, “bridge the gap” being used by law enforcement and citizens, but what does it really mean? Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and local police departments are partnering up in a unique show to do just that.

“We are Nebraska” is an internship program at UNL. It’s filled with diverse students, looking to become inclusive leaders.

After the death of George Floyd and recent calls for social justice and police reform, these students reached out to team up with police officers in Lincoln to perform side by side, but it isn’t your typical show.

Through their performances, interns touch on tough topics like racism, different sexual orientations, substance abuse, depression and suicide.

They take their personal experiences and involve dance and music. Last year, LPD officers showed up simply as audience members. This year, you can find them along with UNL officers on the stage singing, playing instruments and performing spoken word.

It comes as a way to get students out of their books and officers from behind their badges, building missing trust between younger generations and Lincoln law enforcement.

Jack Buchanan is one of the performing interns. He grew up as a biracial man in Nebraska and says it’s brought some challenges. He describes working with officers for the show’s performance as “humanizing.”

“If anything is ever going to get solved in our country or surrounding these sorts of problems, then we should probably talk to one another and not just stay on one side and talk to ourselves about what we think of another group,” Buchanan said.

Moving to Nebraska as a refugee from Sudan, UNL senior Tut Kailech says things haven’t always been easy. So, that’s what his performance will show.

Kailech feels like doing things like this with law enforcement is a step in the right direction. Through this experience, one of the officers he tells 10/11 he’s bonded with the most was Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister.

“He was very welcoming. His ears were wide open. Now, that we did these workshops, they gave me more confidence that we actually have officers that want to progress and move forward,” Kailech said.

The public information officer for LPD, who’s also set to perform in the show, Erin Spilker, describes the experience as “powerful.”

Both interns and officers say they hope the show will open other people’s eyes to current issues and allow them to feel empathy and emotion. Another goal of these performances is to emphasize the mental health resources UNL students have on campus.

Together, these interns and Lincoln Police officers created an abstract piece of artwork that will be auctioned off at the show. All of the auction’s proceeds will be given to The Malone Center.

“We are Nebraska” and Lincoln officers are putting on the performance for free. It’s taking place Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at the Lied Center downtown. There are two shows: one at 4:30 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. Masks and social distancing are required, and since most of these performances are for mature audiences only, it’s suggested no one under 13 years old attend.

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