Co-Written by Special Olympics Wake County Athlete Victoria Pepper and Special Olympics North Carolina Director of Communications Madeline Safrit
The Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) is the largest public awareness vehicle and grass-roots fundraiser for Special Olympics. This organization exemplifies the celebration of diversity by uniting people of all abilities and communities worldwide. Apex Police Department Chief of Police Jason Armstrong has been part of the movement since his early days in law enforcement. As a police officer in Georgia, to his position as chief of police in Ferguson, Missouri, to his current position in Apex, North Carolina, his platform for promoting inclusion and diversity has advanced alongside his career. What motivates Chief Armstrong to continue pursuing that advancement are his children.
“My children are what motivate me to do my job,” said Chief Armstrong. “I’ve experienced racism and have been treated unfairly because of the color of my skin. I have a responsibility to try to make things better… I don’t want my children to experience some of what I experienced. I want their lives to be better.”
Black History Month is an annual observance, recognized during the month of February, honoring the struggles that Black individuals have fought to overcome. A graduate of North Carolina Central University, a historically Black university, and a lifelong leader in diversity, equity and inclusion, Chief Armstrong keeps the conversation of Black achievement alive year-round.
“It’s a time of reflection, it’s a time of celebration,” said Chief Armstrong. “I appreciate when February comes around and we start having more of these conversations to recognize and celebrate people… I am the first Black police chief in Apex, and that is a great accomplishment. I don’t look at is as my accomplishment, I look at is as the accomplishment of the community and the people who came before me.”
His accomplishments have not come without their challenges. As Apex Police Department’s first Black chief of police, he has worked to alleviate fear, a sense of unease, in the inclusion of initiatives and conversations focused on diversity. Joining leaders around the country, he is a member of several advocacy groups, including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police and the Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) Board of Directors.
“There was a time in the history of our country when we could not be part of these organizations that exist today,” said Chief Armstrong. “In addressing systemic racism and issues within our country that law enforcement has an association with, we’re doing everything in our power to change what needs to be changed, to advocate what needs to be advocated for.”
When Special Olympics athletes need a voice represented in law enforcement, Chief Armstrong speaks up. Within SONC, within the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC), the recognition of diversity is foundational. Prior to his relocation to North Carolina, Chief Armstrong participated in LETR activities in Georgia and Missouri. Now, for more than two years, Chief Armstrong has ensured the continuation of his agency’s dedicated involvement through fundraising and volunteer efforts. Their annual Cops vs. Jocks is a longstanding fundraising tradition, as Apex Police Department officers rival varsity basketball players from Wake County Public Schools on the court. He encourages his staff to have a presence, to have an impact in the lives of Special Olympics athletes.
“When I think about Special Olympics and what my experience has been, the one thing that always stands out to me is the smile of the athletes, and it’s the smile of their family members watching them compete,” said Chief Armstrong.
United through NC LETR and Special Olympics, individuals bring a variety of backgrounds, opinions and experiences to the table. These differences fuel the power that organizations, like Special Olympics, have to change the world around them.