A lot changed for John Verdi’s life on Sept. 11, 2001.
Verdi is a retired New York Police Department officer who lives in Melbourne. He responded to the horrific terror attacks that day.
A child gave Verdi a special card that made it clear to Verdi that connections are the key to building trust between children and police officers.
Fast forward 15 years, Verdi started an initiative called Hey, Blue that partners with the Melbourne Police Department to read books to children, have bubble parties and sing songs as a way for kids to see the police in a more positive light.
Before COVID-19, Verdi and a police officer would bring the fun right to local schools. Now, their events are hosted online and with overwhelming participation.
“It’s more than just storytime though. It’s a movement. It’s about focusing on positive interactions with police,” Verdi said.
On Hey, Blue’s advisory board is a student activist from Viera High School, Kairi Thomas-Brooks. Thomas-Brooks hosts a Facebook live show with Hey, Blue called “21 Questions” where she has meaningful conversations with police officers.
“I’ve talked to police officers from all over the country. I ask them the tough questions, and we get to learn from each other,” Thomas-Brooks said. “This is needed now more than ever.”
One major collaborator and frequent guest star on Hey, Blue’s videos is MPD Commander Marc Claycomb. Other members on the initiative’s advisory board include attorneys, bankers, a chef and members of the Black Student Union at Florida Institute of Technology.
“My favorite thing to see in a storytime is when I’m with a community member and a police officer and at the end the police officers are walking out crying because they’re getting that moment of appreciation,” Verdi said.
For more information about the Hey, Blue initiative, go to verdiecoschool.org/heyblue.