SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - For years, there's been a disconnect between law enforcement and people who live in minority communities. One way to bridge the gap is gaining more diverse law enforcement professionals.
Donald Miller said growing up, he dreamed of being in law enforcement.
"Like a lot of kids, I had a lot of interest in law enforcement," Miller said.
When asked if he saw his African-American ethnicity represented within the law enforcement community he grew up idolizing, he said no.
"That was something that worried me when I began applying to these jobs, especially growing up in a time when I began to look at what was going on in the world," Miller said. "At the time, as a young black man, I had negative experiences with the police. I had been pulled over and accused of stealing my own car."
According to Miller, his dream of being in law enforcement was put on hold after graduating college.
"I found myself actually working in retail," Miller said. "I actually worked at a jewelry store of all things."
Eventually, his path lead him to the steps of the principle federal law enforcement agency, the FBI.
"I got hired in 2019," Miller said. "I've been an agent for two years now."
For Tia Neither, she was a graduate student when the opportunity to join the FBI fell in her lap.
"I got a random email one day, while I was in graduate school, that (the FBI) was having open interviews. I just decided I'd give it a try," Neither said. "I went to an interview and got hired."
When Neither got hired in 2016, she said only three African-American people were on staff at the Springfield division.
In 1919, James Wormly Jones was the first African-American Special Agent hired in the FBI. It wasn't until 1976 that the bureau hired the first female African American agent, Sylvia Mathis.
"Just being a woman, there's always going to be challenges in a male dominant society," Neither said. "As a black woman, I am driven. I will get my point across. I will add my input. I show my value in my work."
African-Americans make up more than 10 percent of the FBI workforce, but less than five percent are special agents.
"There's a very knowledgeable distrust of law enforcement in this country," Miller said. "I understand where it comes from as a black man because in America, I am black before I am an FBI agent."
Miller and Neither said work is being done to change that narrative because in order to serve a diverse population, a diverse population must represent the people they serve.
"Our mission is to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States, but to protect the American public," Miller said. "We must mirror the public we serve."