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Atkins Warren Chapter of NOBLE organizes annual Blessing of the Badges Ceremony 

The table of badges from first responders in attendance at the Blessing of the Badges ceremony. (Jared Teitel/WUFT News)
The table of badges from first responders in attendance at the Blessing of the Badges ceremony. (Jared Teitel/WUFT News)

Alena Lawson Bennett served over two decades as a lieutenant with the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) and later as chief investigator of the Gainesville Public Defender’s Office.

Bennett, the current president of the Gainesville chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), organized a religious service to thank and commemorate local first responders in an event called Blessing of the Badges on Sunday.

NOBLE was founded in the U.S. in 1976 as a way to address high rates of crime in Black and low-income neighborhoods. The Atkins Warren chapter of NOBLE, named after the first African American police chief in the city of Gainesville, was begun nearly 40 years later with Bennet's help.

Bennet said NOBLE is the city’s premier public service organization dedicated to providing solutions to the issues and concerns of local law enforcement. The group organizes a number of events aimed at advocating against “systematic discriminations or processes that preclude people of color from becoming an officer.”

One regular event is the annual Blessing of the Badges ceremony, which has been held at Abiding Faith Christian Church since 2019. Area residents and first responders come together to pray for the individuals risking their lives for the safety and betterment of the community.

“Being in law enforcement is a very thankless job,” Bennett, who is from Newberry, said. “This is another opportunity for the community…to come and say, ‘We support you.’”

Bennett regards Gainesville as a “faith-type city,” owing to her decision to organize the Blessing of the Badges ceremony. The ceremony is conducted in a Christian church and includes songs and prayers by clergy and other churchgoers. Attendees dressed in white stand around a small tablecloth just below the podium. On this table are the badges of all officers and first responders in attendance.

“I am very strong in my faith,” Bennett said. “I know it was my faith that protected me through those 22 years that I worked as an officer.”

Lt. Cleveland Allen Jr., 45, of the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) served as the ceremony's guest speaker. His was filling in after Leon County Assistant Sheriff Arthgatha Gilmore was unable to attend due to a family emergency.

Allen has served TPD for 19 years, filling various positions, including patrol officer and a member of the Special Response Team. His focus areas throughout his career have included troubled youth and property crimes.

“I wanted to become a member of law enforcement because I wanted to have an impact on the community where I live and where I work,” Allen said.

Allen is a member of the North Florida chapter of NOBLE and is the current chaplain of TPD. As a longtime law enforcement officer, he said he knows and feels firsthand the danger of his occupation every day. He said he has attended a number of Blessing of the Badges ceremonies in the state of Florida, where these messages are promoted.

“Every day you come to work knowing that there is a possibility I could lose my life while trying to save another life,” he said. “This profession is not one of convenience, it’s one of conviction.”

He uttered these same sentiments in the speech he delivered to the Abiding Faith Christian Church crowd, calling for the first responders in attendance to continue serving their communities with commitment. He praised them as “selfless,” sacrificing their safety through their work.

“So as long as there are those that would do injury,” he said to the attendants, “there will always be a need for you.”

Also invited to speak at the ceremony was Capt. Ryan Woods of Sante Fe College Police Department, GPD Chief Lonnie Scott and Alachua County Sheriff Emery Gainey. Worshipers led with songs such as “We’re Blessed” by Fred Hammond and “Flow to You” by Pastor Paul Sylvester Morton.

“(The ceremony) was much needed,” said Fareed Johnson, chair of the Gainesville Police Advisory Council and candidate for city commission. “The first responders need prayer because they are putting their lives on the line for us.”

GPD Capt. Victoria Young, who is treasurer of the Atkins Warren chapter of NOBLE and a member of Abiding Faith Christian Church, led a portion of the ceremony. She spoke about the importance this event holds with the local and national community of first responders.

“We are facing so many adversities within the community today,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to all come back and be centered together, to remember what’s important and to lean on each other.”

Young said the value of the Blessing of the Badges lies in the humanity she says the event attaches to first responders.

“I believe that it allows people to see us as people,” she said. “I think that people forget that we are people. We have feelings, we have family, we worship and praise together.”

Young ended the Blessing of the Badges ceremony with the announcement of Bennett’s retirement at the end of the year as president of the Atkins Warren chapter. But Young said NOBLE will continue to grow in Gainesville, leading more ceremonies, events and projects that involve first responders.

Jared is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing