Wayland Cubit on mentorship, race relations and seeking justice - MetroFamily Magazine
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Wayland Cubit on mentorship, race relations and seeking justice

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While 17-year-old Wayland Cubit lay in a hospital bed recovering from a fall off a horse, resulting in a broken hip, his aunt foretold to him over the phone that he’d be instrumental in the life of a young man. Cubit laughingly says he shrugged the conversation off, much more intent on recovering and getting out of the hospital than volunteering with kids.

Yet when the high school junior had recuperated, he found himself pulling into the parking lot of St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, a former group home for boys in the metro, where he followed the exact path his aunt had predicted, only his influence has exceeded far beyond one youth. Through becoming a dad, foster dad and granddad and serving 25 years in law enforcement, Cubit has never stopped mentoring and making a life-long difference in the lives of young people. And he’s continued to gather others around him to do the same.

Showing up

At St. Joseph’s, Cubit recruited friends to play sports and dominoes with residents to help provide them positive male role models. On the police force, he launched FACT (Family Awareness and Community Teamwork) in 2007 to provide police officer mentors to at-risk youth. In his 2020 campaign for Oklahoma County sheriff and his daily life as a community leader, Cubit seeks out reciprocal conversations on tough issues like racism and the relationship between law enforcement and community members to help ensure a better future for the next generation.

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Cubit was surrounded by family and friends, giving him a sense of the value and importance of community. His sense of belonging has inspired him to ensure others experience that, too.

“Sometimes families screw things up and the community has to fill in the gaps,” said Cubit. “If I had something to add value, I would. Showing up is the key.”

Cubit hasn’t always felt equipped, as a mentor, as a dad or when he and wife Cree fostered eight children, but he’s always felt that if he would simply show up, God would do the rest. He equates the feeling to his service as a police officer, trusting that he has the training, tools and resources though he never knows what each call will bring.

“We take the call and show up no matter what,” said Cubit. “We have a 10-code in law enforcement. 10-8 means in service, ready for any call. My personal philosophy is 10-8.”

The Cubits’ biological kids are in their 20s and 30s, and the eight children they fostered or adopted were all kinship placements. Cubit said he and Cree didn’t always feel they had the knowledge, space or financial resources to provide for more kids, but their hearts were burdened to help and somehow they always made it work. In the midst of getting kids to school and planning for their futures, the blessings of serving as a foster family weren’t always readily apparent. But they are now.

“As they come back for birthdays or family celebrations, they point back to certain moments or something we taught and you see a legacy that lives far beyond the short amount of time in your space,” said Cubit of his foster and adopted children. “The blessing is the legacy building. They aren’t what the odds said they would be.”

Between mentoring kids from hard places in the community and fostering family members, Cubit’s parenting philosophy in responding to kids’ negative behaviors shifted.

“As you evolve and become more empathetic to what’s happening in the world, you change from asking ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’” said Cubit. “The question changes, your response changes.”

Cubit has witnessed that philosophy focused on empathy and understanding change the entire trajectory of a youth’s life, it’s fueled his passion to continue mentoring kids and it’s inspired those around him, too.

Healing conversations

That same inherent ability to listen, learn and empathize is clear in Cubit’s professional life as well, and he encourages that posture in his fellow officers. A few years ago, Cubit’s unit had the opportunity to make a presentation about the FACT mentoring program at a Washington D.C. national mentoring conference. The group also toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture and while there noticed two groups of uniformed police officers on a tour. Cubit discovered that visiting the museum is part of the D.C. officers’ mandatory training, and the Oklahoma City unit was invited to join their tour group, which Cubit says was a powerful learning opportunity for them all.

“The recurring statement was that your job as police officers is to do justice, and look at all the opportunities law enforcement has had to do justice [throughout] the African American story, but we were actively ushering in injustice the entire time,” said Cubit. “When we know symbolically what our uniform has represented to you, we get the opportunity to prove we’re not going to be that way. To do justice is to give people what they deserve, not more and not less.”

These kinds of educational connections, as well as candid, open conversation between law enforcement and the community, are what Cubit believes can heal staunch divisiveness and turmoil between law enforcement and community members.

“The community does not hate police officers, they hate policing,” said Cubit. “If they knew the police officers they couldn’t hate them. And if the officers became the community — if they knew their story — they couldn’t hurt them. We have to invite officers into the community in other roles besides enforcing — out of their uniform — working on boards and nonprofits and at churches, getting to know people for who they are.”

Cubit sees the power of officers becoming part of the community through the FACT mentorship program every day. Plainclothes officers seek to address gang or delinquency concerns with at-risk youth and their families. The officers assigned to the unit believe with early intervention they can help at-risk youth ages 10 to 17 fight the pressure of gangs and involvement in juvenile delinquency. The officers focus on instilling good character traits and life skills through positive learning opportunities with the youth in the program. Weekly events give kids the chance to gather in a positive environment.

Cubit says the officers become like extra parents for the youth. Where there may have been initial distrust, engaging together creates a new norm and a new future story for the youth and officers alike. Cubit saw that in action when, in the civil unrest after the December 2020 officer shooting of local Black, homeless man Bennie Edwards, the FACT youth were consistently checking on their officer mentors to find out how they were faring amidst community protests. The officers’ work and relationships with the youth earned their trust and compassion.

In another recent officer-involved shooting of a Black man in Oklahoma City, Cubit says a white officer was being portrayed as racist. Unbeknownst to most, in the months prior, that same officer had been called a “pig” by a young Black male while pumping gas. Noting identification on the young man’s vehicle, the officer called
the man’s employer, not to get him in trouble but to request to have lunch and a conversation with him because he wanted to better understand him. The two continue to meet occasionally. Cubit believes if the community knew the officer’s backstory, they might have reacted differently.

When Cubit has considered — and asked community members — what the reaction would be if he made a mistake or shot someone in the line of duty, he receives affirmation that while he wouldn’t get “a pass,” his work in the community speaks volumes, and that incites him to encourage that level of engagement among other officers.

“They know I care about the community, that the last thing I want to do is kill somebody, and they only know that because of my body of work,” said Cubit. “Let’s spread that body of work throughout the agency.”

Cubit says the “bad guys” are thriving in the current divisiveness, thriving in the confusion of officers who don’t want to be too heavy-handed and a community who doesn’t want to call the police because they might not respond correctly.

“We’ve got to find the balance,” said Cubit. “We have to ask how people want to be policed and what they expect out of us because we work for you.”

Finding hope

In his 2020 campaign for Oklahoma County sheriff, supporters from all parties and all walks of life often noted about Cubit his willingness to listen and engage in tough conversations. Even though the outcome of the election was not what Cubit or his supporters desired, he still found a great deal of hope in the process and is grateful for the opportunity to have met so many people he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know.

“The reason they cared so much, when knowing so little about me, is that they have high hope in our community,” said Cubit of his campaign supporters. “Leaders are supposed to represent solutions, not problems, and they saw a solution wrapped up in my campaign. We’re really good at ‘stopping’ things — stop police brutality, stop racism — but somebody has to represent the START of something.”

Through his mentorship program, his podcast and in regular conversations in the community, Cubit says discussions about race and racism are becoming more commonplace, and that’s a good thing, which he hopes is the start of something positive.

“I’m hopeful about what comes from these conversations,” said Cubit. “A shared history and memory is formed. Now we have the opportunity to blend our stories so our kids have a different shared history.”

As Cubit considers the necessary changes needed to make Oklahoma City a more equitable place for all community members, he encourages local parents to consider what did or didn’t happen to them growing up in regards to race relations, how that formed their opinions on race and racism and how their views are different from those of other races or those who grew up in a different part of the city. As parents, Cubit says, we can together create a brighter future for all kids if we’re committed to having hard conversations now.

“I would challenge the white, middle-class Oklahoman to examine the fact that there is no growth in comfort,” said Cubit. “Race relations is supposed to be uncomfortable. But if it’s hard for us, that means it will be easier for our kids. That’s all I want, and all parents can relate.”

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