The sixth annual Long Beach Heroes event held on Sunday honored the “unsung heroes” of the Long Beach community. Each hero selected received $500 to support their continued positive impact in the city, while the 2016 Hero of the Year received $1,000. Thanks to Justin Rudd’s Community Action Team, $7,500 was given to 14 outstanding Long Beach locals.
The 2016 Long Beach Heroes awarded were April Smith Devane, Louise Montgomery, Eric Berg, Brad Futak, Gabe Torres, Roni Naccarato, Joel Davis, Paul Richardson, Jennifer Ballinger, Mike Franklin, Jeanne Halliday, Donna Helvey and Jose Hernandez.
One such local that stood out was the 2016 Long Beach Hero of the Year, Rodney Coulter. One of the several honored “ordinary, unsung citizens who do amazing things,” Coulter is an ex-gang member, ex-felon, recovered drug addict, college graduate and educator on police and community relations.
The story of how Coulter became a part of Long Beach Police Officer Jason Lehman’s nonprofit, Why’d You Stop Me (WYSM) whose mission is to reduce violence between police and the public, is one for the books.
Lehman was asked to present a WYSM program to a group of gang counselors in 2013. Following the program he was approached by Coulter who asked to be a part of WYSM, Lehman said.
“I exchanged information with Rodney and I have to admit that I was skeptical of allowing him to participate with the program because of his criminal history and the fact that he was recently released from parole,” he said.
Coulter contacted Lehman every month for about a year, asking him each time when he was going to be able to work with WYSM. Finally, Lehman vetted him through a number of different channels and invited him to join the team. Although Lehman says he may have waited a little too long, he believes his “better safe than sorry” approach has benefited the two as they still work together today.
“Rodney grew up learning (and teaching) not to trust the police,” said Lehman. “His family and most all of his friends felt the same way. In his inner-city world of gangs and narcotics, he believed that if you are seen speaking with a police officer you are a ‘snitch.’”
Coulter now teaches WYSM participants the opposite of what he once held true. He differentiates between a “snitch” and a “concerned citizen,” professing WYSM’s “see something, say something method,” said Lehman.
“A snitch is someone who rats on another that they committed a crime with in order to catch a deal or a break,” Rodney teaches. “A concerned citizen is someone who is law abiding and who calls 9-1-1 on someone who they see break the law.”
When Coulter speaks, the WYSM team calls his message “Going from a place to a place.” Speaking to the youth that the nonprofit serves, Coulter admits to spending years “breaking down the same community he lived in,” saying that while he was once a “part of the problem,” he’s now committed to becoming a “part of the solution,” said Lehman.
“Seeing Rodney on stage at this awards show proved to me that he has gone from ‘a place to a place’ and the place he is at now is a place that God and his faith in God has brought him to,” Lehman said. “This place, on stage, is a place of strength, a place of power, and a place of humility. Most importantly, it’s a place of a law abiding citizen and mentor who is crime-free, drug-free, and gang-free.”
Lehman also added that Coulter is proof that “all of us can change.”
For more information on Long Beach Heroes, visit the Facebook event page here.