Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Miami PD Enjoying Success Saving Black Youth via PAL

Miami PD Enjoying Success Saving Black Youth via PAL
by José Pérez

It has been said that the African-American male is the United States’ most endangered species.  With headlines and lunchtime conversations about low graduation rates and high incarceration rates, not enough jobs but too many drugs, it is hard for many not to be discouraged.  Yet in every cloud, there is a ray of sunlight fighting hard to break through and shine. 

The City of Miami Police Department’s Police Athletic League (PAL) has, according to Lieutenant Bernard Johnson, “been around for many years.”  Recently, however, PAL’s activities and importance have grown.  The Miami Police’s PAL just finished its second year of offering Pop Warner football to area youth and the number of children either playing football or cheerleading doubled to about 300 participants. 

All of this comes with news about shootings, gambling, and drug use at youth football games in other parts of South Florida.

Photo courtesy of MPD PAL
What is the difference? Simple, says Johnson, “we have direct police involvement.”  The coaches for the PAL are all police officers with the Miami PD. “That makes our program safer because cops always around.  This built-in “security” is something that Johnson says is important to the parents of the children participating in the football, basketball, cheerleading, karate and other programs offered by PAL.  “Our parents are very happy and very satisfied with the structure,” says Johnson.

GreslynJoseph, mother of PAL participants Trent and TajahJoseph, agrees.  “For me the biggest appeal is the sense of security and trust.”  Joseph says she researched other parks and was initially impressed by the respectful nature of the interactions between the parents and coaches at Curtis Park, where PAL practices and plays its football games.

But more importantly for the coaches and parents like Joseph, says Johnson, “our kids are building a relationship with police officers as role models.”  That relationship transcends the playing fields as the Miami PAL works with students in the classroom, too.   Johnson, along with fellow police officers like Majors Craig McQueen andDelrish Moss andOfficers Kelvin Harris andStanley Jean-Paul  are “setting up a better tracking system keep up with [the student-athletes’] grade point averages,” says Johnson.  For the PAL officers, it is all a big part of keeping Miami’s youth in the park and out of trouble.  In fact, PAL’s motto is “building playgrounds, not prisons.”

“Our goal is to help raise the GPA” of the young athletes that come to the PAL, says Johnson, who proudly talked about PAL’s “tutorial programs, direct counseling, and peer facilitators.”

Photo courtesy of MPD PAL
The fast growth of the program has come mostly from “word of mouth” as more and more families are finding out about the PAL and all that it offers. Joseph says that some parents drive from as far away as Ives Dairy Road to bring their children to Curtis Park.Johnson, however is quick to point out that “there are other great programs out there” and he hopes that, if nothing else, the successes of the PAL can serve a model for other programs that want to help children.

But the biggest indicator of success for any youth-focused program in a major metropolitan area is its impact on the overall lives of its participants once they go home.  In short, does the PAL save more Black lives?  “Yes,” says Johnson. “We’re giving these kids an alternative to criminal activity.”

“Supervised youth are always going to be less likely to get into trouble,” explains Johnson, “and more likely to pursue more positive activities.”

For Joseph, the value of this still-growing program goes deeper than skin color: “the PAL is saving young lives.”

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