Before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Tassa Wigginton guided two young children across a busy Russell Cave Road. She was trying to stake claim to the perfect spot to cheer hundreds of marchers making their way to Consolidated Baptist Church for a memorial service for fallen law enforcement officers.
It was the first time the event — the 35th annual memorial service of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives — was held in Lexington and the first time Wigginton had witnessed it.
"This is instrumental for children and adults to see our people so well organized and the mass of black policemen," Wigginton said as she waited patiently under an intensifying morning sun.
"So many children, especially boys, say I want to be a policeman, and this is the perfect opportunity to see black policemen from all over the country, from all the world right here. They are role models for them."
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And that is exactly what former Lexington police Chief Anthany Beatty hoped for when he submitted bids to host the national organization's conference, which started Saturday and ended Wednesday.
"It was a chance to showcase, to young people, African-Americans, females and minorities in executive roles in an organization," Beatty said.
"When you talk about careers in law enforcement, our young folk only think about what they see and know, that being the local police," he said. "So seeing the presence of all these folks who are executive directors of the DEA and FBI and Secret Service, I knew it was an opportunity to expose young people to that. So we set out to bring it to Lexington."
The first two attempts failed, but in 2006 at the New Orleans conference, the third time was charm. And then the real work began.
Since then, Beatty has retired, as has Assistant Chief James Jackson, who replaced him as conference organizer.
But "the ball kept rolling," said Assistant Chief William Henderson, who was in charge of the conference. "It never stopped. It was very important."
NOBLE got its start in Washington, D.C., in 1976 when 60 black law enforcement executives representing 55 cities in 24 states met to discuss issues such as the high crime rate in black urban areas; the social and economic conditions that can lead to violence; the fairness in the administration of justice, police and community relations; and the hiring and promotion of black officers.
The national conference was usually held in larger cities with larger minority populations such as New York, Miami and Baltimore.
So it was a big deal for Lexington to serve as host this week, being a smaller venue with a small minority population. There were 41 workshops, which was a record, about 200 trade exhibition booths, and various entertainment events for the more than 1,000 visitors from as far away as Nigeria and England.
"This is the largest police conference that the Lexington police department and Lexington has seen," Henderson said. "It is a history-setting thing for the police department and for our Kentucky Chapter of NOBLE here in Lexington."
Karl Robbins, a lieutenant with the Milwaukee, Wis., police department, said he would like to see more conferences held in Southern states, where so much of America's black history has been written.
"It's good to go to the South. It's going back home to educate," he said.
Next year, the conference will be in Little Rock, Ark.
Some 175 people volunteered to help, some manning water stations along the route of the march.
"This is not just a conference," said Beatty, now the University of Kentucky's assistant vice president for campus services. "It is a chance to showcase this community."
Beatty and his wife, Eunice, donated a $2,000 scholarship from the Anthany and Eunice Beatty Foundation to match a similar NOBLE scholarship that is given to a student in the host city each year. Eunice Beatty said she wanted their gift to be the start of the NOBLE Host City Scholarship that would be funded by other cities in the future. It was just another way for Lexington to raise the bar.
Anthany Beatty said visitors from New York and other cities were "blown away" by Lexington's hospitality and natural beauty.
Local residents were impressed, too, as they watched 12 conference buses snake along the route, emptied of their passengers who would soon follow on foot.
"I never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime," Wigginton said. "It shows everyone that, yes, we do enforce the law, and, yes, we are law-abiding citizens, and, yes, we can accomplish something."
That sentiment was shared by Sgt. Paulette Givens of Fayette County Public Schools law enforcement.
"I've never seen that many black officers in Lexington and, yes, my heart did skip a beat when it came to seeing them marching together in unity, in support of one another and for the fallen officers," she said. "It was just good to see everyone come together on one accord for the betterment of law enforcement, not just blacks, but all races."