Today we’d like to introduce you to Charlin Hughes.
Hi Charlin, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today.
In June of 2017, Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile. At that time, our current St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Wesley Bell, myself, and Capt. Clay Farmer were heavily engaged with children and families in the 24:1. A community comprised of 24 municipalities making up one Normandy Schools Collaborative (school district). I worked for Beyond Housing as a Community Engagement Specialist, Wesley was the city attorney or a judge for a few municipalities, and Clay was a captain for the North County Police Co-operative. Being boots on the ground we noticed an energy shift in the community, and it was not good.
Shortly after the verdict, there was a team meeting at Beyond Housing. My co-workers, the CEO, Chris Krehmeyer, and I discussed the cloud hanging over the community we loved and worked hard for. We shared our feelings about police brutality, the number of people of color losing their lives at the hands of police officers versus any other race, the Castile verdict, and many more. Tears were shed. Ideas on how to curb the effects of systemic racism and the recent verdict fell from our mouths like rain from the clouds. During this passionate conversation, one of my co-workers said, “Each side has to the humanness in the other”. At that moment heads were nodding, and everyone stopped talking except Chris. He said, ” Both sides have to meet in the middle”. Thus, our name Humanity in the Middle.
As soon as Mr. Krehmeyer finished that sentence, he looked over at me and asked, “Charlin what are we going to do?” What does the community need for a positive shift?” Admittedly, at that moment I was not sure, and I did not know. However, I told Chris I would call Clay and brainstorm.
Clay and I talked for a while. Collectively we understood the ever-growing gap between law enforcement and the communities served was rapidly growing. Clay and I discussed multiple community engagement strategies but none of them fit. These strategies did not fit because they focused on adults who for the most part are set in their ways. Their thoughts and ideas about life and everything included are strong and very seldom change.
So, we decided to concentrate on children but were unsure of the age group because of how intense and intimidating discussions about police with police could be. After much discussion, we decided to focus our efforts on high school Juniors and Seniors. We felt this demographic was knowledgeable and mature enough to have hard conversations but still open enough to consider changing or rethinking their ideas and perceptions about life and everything included. Clay and I knew who and why but were still perplexed by the how. We knew we needed to create a safe space for difficult and candid conversations. Eventually, we tabled the conversation with Clay saying, “Let me sleep on it”.
Well, if he slept on it he did not sleep long. At 3 o’clock the next morning my phone rang, and it was Clay. He had the nerve to ask if I was up like it was 3 p.m., He said, “Rev. we should take some kids on an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and have law enforcement as chaperones”. I think we stayed on the phone for 30 minutes to an hour hatching a master plan.
Within a couple of weeks, we hosted an assembly at Normandy High School informing staff and students about our new initiative, the why behind it, and what they needed to do for a chance to win a free trip. Interested scholars submitted up a 500-word essay on a black person or event that has impacted their lives, provide three letters of reference, and complete eight hours of community service before departure. Within days scholars, parents, and staff were reaching out. We did not have any money but needed $11,000 to make this trip happen. Wesley, Clay, and I reached out to our networks for donations and raised all but $1500. Beyond Housing backed our efforts and paid the difference. On September 15, 2017, 15 scholars and 10 chaperones headed to Washington, D.C. for our first trip. We visited the African American History Museum, the Capitol, the White House, Howard University, and a plethora of other educational and fun-filled places.
Since then, we have taken a different cohort of scholars on trips steeped in Black History and Black Excellence every year Except for 2020 when COVID-19 took over the world. We have visited Atlanta, GA (MLK Historical District), Birmingham (Civil Rights Museum), Montgomery (The Legacy Museum), AL, and Tulsa, OK (100th Commemoration of Black Wall Street). On February 15, 2021. Humanity in the Middle moved from under the umbrella of Beyond Housing and became its own nonprofit entity.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
This journey has not been smooth. Keeping things going on donations alone is a struggle but God always puts people or entities in our path that believe in what we do. They realize that all it takes is one positive person or interaction to change the trajectory of someone’s life, family, and neighborhood. It is a chore working two full-time jobs and getting paid for one. Because we are committed to bridging the gap between law enforcement and the communities served, we often work 16 hours or more.
We cannot positively impact the community if we are not in the community e.g., events, scholar’s games, milestones, town hall meetings, grand openings, etc. We have struggled with building the infrastructure (policies, procedures, strategic plan, etc.) to ensure Humanity in the Middle is still operating 50+ years down the line. We solicit assistance when needed but most things have come through trial and error which is a catalyst for us to keep going, keep growing, and keep trying. Because failure is not an option. Our community cannot be safe if scholars (families) don’t see past the badge and officers (families) don’t see past the media-driven stereotypes about children and people of color.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am an ordained minister and a master’s level Social Worker who minored in Psychology and am certified in Trauma Informed Treatment and Response. Currently, I co-manage the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The LEAD program is a community-based diversion approach with the goals of improving public safety and public order and reducing unnecessary justice system involvement of low-level non-violent offenders whose actions may be anchored in substance use disorder.
Although I am all things social work my passion lies in Community Engagement. No one knows what a community needs more than the community itself. So, often community voice is left out of community planning and that should not be. I believe everyone’s voice matters and has value. Every community member, stakeholder, business owner, etc. should have a say on what happens in the space they live and work in. From idea to fruition neighborhood feedback is a must. It lends to strong infrastructure and long-term sustainability.
If I had to choose, I’d say I am most known for Community Building. I specialize in bringing resources and systems together to serve people more efficiently having a positive impact on day-to-day living.
What I am most proud of and what sets me apart are the same. I am most proud of is having the courage and wherewithal to walk into my purpose late in life. Although I had been advocating for the marginalized, connecting people to and providing resources, and assisting others with crafting personal plans of action I did not get my degrees until I was over 40. But it’s the trials and tribulations of life that truly prepared me for my purpose e.g., being a teen mother (18), a single parent of five by 25, parentless by the age of 29, homeless with kids at 31, etc.
The paperwork (degrees) gets me in the door, but God’s calling and my journey with Him keep me in the door. Not many people have the opportunity to work in their purpose, live in their passion, AND get paid for it.
My future includes growing our non-profit to a national level. Especially since we already have law enforcement agencies, nationwide, consistently reaching out to partner.
Within the next two to three years, I will be more intentional and seek out more speaking engagements. God has blessed me with the ability to motivate others with words and provide knowledge and tools of engagement to help take individuals, families, communities, etc. to their next level of success. Notice I said THEIR level. Why? Success looks different to different people, places and ecosystems. Also, with in the next five years, I plan on buying some properties, rehabbing them, and increasing the safe, affordable and emergency housing stock in St. Louis. Without stable housing success, whatever it looks like, is nearly impossible.
- $700 sponsors a trip for one scholar.
- $350 covers half of the trip expenses for one scholar.
- $200 covers three days of meals (3 per day) for one scholar
- $180 covers two nights of lodging for a scholar
- Website: humanityinthemiddle.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/humanityinthemiddle/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Humanitynthemiddle
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7FNFFr43w4&t=2s
- Other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqiPDu_g4QE&t=140s