NWPRSA, local media team up for 'Delivering the Message'

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020 at 11:50 AM
NWPRSA, local media team up for 'Delivering the Message' by Julia Carden

Erie News Now teamed up with the Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (NWPRSA) to deliver a digital panel on Sept. 25, titled “Delivering the Message.” The panel was led by journalist Mike Ruzzi and featured public relations specialist Ed Stevens, former Erie City Councilman and pastor Curtis Jones Jr., and retired state trooper Matthew Harris. 

The experts touched on several topics: COVID-19, the Breonna Taylor Case, the upcoming presidential debate, the importance of Erie County as a voting bloc, and even professional athletes’ reactions to police brutality. While these were all on the table, the conversation continually circled back to the importance of communication.

Ruzzi began by asking the panelists how the pandemic has affected their work and personal lives.

Stevens described the pandemic as a “real awakening.” He explained that despite the many challenges, the effects of COVID-19 have led to new opportunities and improvements that he believes communities have needed for a while. “It’s a chance to really see life through a new lens,” he said.

Jones expressed a similar view, explaining that these are trying times because people are redefining themselves. “What used to work well is changing,” he said.

The panel then spoke about current issues concerning police brutality.  

Stevens holds a board seat for the Cleveland Police Foundation. In his words, “police get a bad rap, even on a good day.” He believes the answer to these tensions can be found in positive communication. He has worked with The Cultural Transformation Project in Cleveland, which aims to better the relationship between police officers and civilians.

Matthew Harris served as a Pennsylvania State Trooper for 20 years and is now the founder and director of the Character: Be About It program, an initiative to familiarize Erie area students with police. According to the program’s website, it also “offers a proven system to address the risk factors that lead to youth violence and school dropout.”

“I'm pro-police, but I'm against officers who abuse their power,” said Harris, who was hesitant to speak on the Breonna Taylor case because he felt he could not put himself in the shoes of those police officers, or the victim’s family. He described the case ruling as “unfortunate.”

In the upcoming presidential debates, Harris is hoping to hear how the candidates would make strides toward an improvement in police training and cultural awareness. He believes that annual police training with the most up-to-date information is necessary.  

Jones and Harris both pointed out the importance of voting, especially in Erie County, which they believe is pivotal in determining Pennsylvania's electoral votes.

Jones believes the recent negativity in politics is to blame for the lack of progress in solving problems in the U.S. He wished he saw healthy, positive campaigning, instead of “anti-you” messaging. “The more negative we get out there, the better it’s received,” Jones said, noting that this creates a “whirlwind of negativity.”

The panelists then talked about the varied reactions to cases of police brutality.

“This might be edgy for a pastor to say, but I don’t have a problem with a riot. I'm not talking looting and burning things down — but an intense expression of resistance is important,” said Jones. “But when we’re done expressing that, have we put anything in place to change things legislatively? We have to channel that energy and do something with it.”

He encourages protesters to channel that emotion in a constructive manner. He also wishes officials would work on “long-term social economic solutions” in reaction to the protests.

Harris then explained his stance on professional athletes' being public on police brutality and protests. “There are a lot of people out there that feel that pro athletes should not be politicizing different events, but that’s really not fair to say. It's important that they continue to raise awareness.” He hopes they go a step further and take advantage of their “resources, connections, and contacts to make things happen.” Harris said that he has no problem with athletes voicing displeasures, as long as it's done in a positive manner.

As for wondering if humanity has lost the ability to have civil dialogue to seek a common ground, the panelists agreed there is hope. Jones believes in communication that is “authentic and intentional.” He added: “Hope is still alive, but my aspiration is to get beyond hope in certain areas. At some point we have to start accomplishing what hope keeps alive in us.”

You can watch the panel in its entirety, below.

Julia Carden is a staff writer for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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