MANSFIELD, Ohio – Richland County will be bathed in blue light next week in support of local safety forces.
From Jan. 10 through Jan. 16, the county will observe “Spread the Light” week. All Richland County residents, municipalities, businesses, churches, schools and organizations are asked to come together by putting a blue light bulb on their porch or business.
Richland County “Spread the Light” was created by local activist group We ACT to promote pride in local law enforcement, firefighters and first responders, partnership across all communities and peace in local neighborhoods. The color blue symbolizes the color of peace.
“This is a localized approach to ‘Project Blue Light,’ which originated in 1988 in Philadelphia when a relative of a fallen police officer placed a memorial blue light in a window as a symbolic color of peace,” said Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker during a press conference on Tuesday. “We rely on them on a daily basis to make us feel safe. And this is an event we can put together to show that not only are they supportive of us, but as citizens we want to continue to support our first responders.”
We ACT will kick off “Spread the Light” week on Jan. 9 with a free event from 6 to 7 p.m. at Graham Automall. Representative Mark Romanchuk and Senator Larry Obhof will be present, and law enforcement vehicles from Mansfield and surrounding cities will turn their lights blue in support of “Spread the Light.”
“Since We ACT’s establishment, this noteworthy organization has made numerous contributions to the local community,” said Romanchuk on Tuesday. “We applaud them on their commitment to bettering the world around them.”
Obhof also offered praise for We ACT and the entire community for coming together to do what’s right.
“The way the community here has come together I think speaks very well of the Mansfield area, of the police force and the citizens here, and really highlights why this is one of the greatest communities in Ohio and why Ohio is the greatest state in the country,” he said.
Every day of “Spread the Light” week will be marked in some way by community participation. On Sunday, preachers will spread the word through their sermons; Monday will be first responders, firefighters and law enforcement appreciation day. On Tuesday and Wednesday, downtown Mansfield businesses and the gazebo on the square will turn the lights blue.
On Thursday, the Police Athletic League after-school program will give blue glow-in-the-dark bracelets to kids and blue light bulbs to parents. On Friday, UMADAOP’s new Outreach Facility will turn blue in honor of its open house and living in a peaceful, drug-free community.
“A lot of us in this room serve in some capacity, but we don’t serve and protect like the guys in blue,” said Erskine Braggs of UMADAOP, who supplied blue light bulbs at Tuesday’s press conference. “I know you get a lot of criticism, but when you talk about walking a mile in someone’s shoes, that would be a tough mile to walk.”
Rounding out “Spread the Light” week on Saturday, Jan. 16, the gymnasium will turn blue during the Mansfield Senior and Lexington basketball game, and law enforcement and first responders will be recognized at halftime. Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Brian Garverick acknowledged the importance of the schools’ relationship with law enforcement during a rash of bomb threats in the fall of 2015.
“Never was it so evident as it was at the beginning of our school year our relationship with law enforcement and first responders,” he said. “It was very critical that they were there on the scene, and all the officers on scene were very cooperative and we worked together. All in all, everybody is safe, and I want to thank them for that.”
Other organizations supporting “Spread the Light” week in Richland County include the city of Shelby, Richland County Children Services, the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office, and The Rehab Center.
Law enforcement agencies present on Tuesday thanked the community for its support in launching “Spread the Light” week.
“I always say the Mansfield Police Department is a community-policing police department, and you can’t have that without the community,” said Mansfield Police Chief Ken Coontz. “It’s very heartfelt to receive that type of support … it’s nice the community can recognize the efforts each officer puts in every day when they put their life on the line.”
Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon also acknowledged the support between law enforcement agencies in the county.
“The Richland County area is unique in the fact that law enforcement really does work together a lot,” Sheldon said. “We love each other and support each other, and we try to always be there for each other.
“We do everything we do for the people. Sometimes it’s a thin blue line, and we’re very appreciative of what the citizens of this community do for us.”