Several weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, “Baltimore in our Backyard.” It was a reflection on a very difficult conversation I had with youth from one of the housing complexes we are working with this summer.
In that post, I shared the negative attitude I encountered about the possibility of the community ever changing. When I asked this particular group of youth what they would change, they said they would remove the rules and the police presence. I equated their comment to them experiencing a sense of oppression in school and in their community. With that group of youth there seemed to be no real interest in working toward a healthier community. I left discouraged about getting a Dream Catcher project off the ground there this summer.
Fast forward one month; same neighborhood, different kids.
Nearly a dozen high school youth showed up at the launch of our Dream Catcher project. They arrived early. Offered to help set up. Got excited about the possibility of serving in their community. All of them signed up to be a part of the summer service project. I was shocked by how polite, respectful ,and optimistic they were, after my encounter with other youth in the same neighborhood.
What changed? When we left the community after the difficult conversation, I shared my concerns with the housing manager, Hazel.
She said, “You just have to get the right kids in the room. We have some great kids here. I will make sure they show up the next time you are here.”
Hazel is what we call a “minister of introduction.” She has been recruiting for us for a month!
The most interesting moment in the meeting this week was when we asked these youth to name the assets of the community. The first asset named was, “The Opposition.”
Essie, our Dream Catcher coordinator, responded, “You are going to have to explain that to me. How is opposition an asset?”
The youth replied, “The opposition is the cops. They are an asset because they are keeping our neighborhood safe.”
This comment surprised me. The night before, I had watched in shock at the video we have all seen over and over of a police officer chasing teenagers with a gun at a pool party.
In the 10 years I have been doing community development, I have never had a neighborhood youth name the police as the first asset that came to their mind.
After the meeting I was curious to know more. I set out to find the policeman who patrols this community. It was not hard to find him. He was in his police car at the top of the hill. His name is Officer Mike. You can see his smiling face in the image on this post.
When I told him that he was named as one of the most important assets by the neighborhood youth, he smiled and said, “They are good kids. I try to play with them when I can. I want them to know we are here to keep them safe.”
As we were talking with Officer Mike, a young girl approached. She wanted Officer Mike to know that there were three baby raccoons behind the trash can near the recreation center. He assured her that he would take care of it and headed down the hill toward the raccoons.
Seeing how comfortable that little girl was approaching this large officer made me smile. While the media images of police officers we see today are of those abusing their power and oppressing our youth, here in the neighborhood that I equated to Baltimore, is an officer like Mike.
While some of the neighborhood youth see the officers as a negative force, what I discovered is that far more residents see the police as their strongest source of security.
Recognizing and celebrating that there are good police officers in no way diminishes the fact that we have a lot of work to do to rid ourselves of those who abuse their power. It is important to present a balanced perspective. This is not my opinion; it is straight from the youth who are seeking to build a better community, and they wanted us to know that they value the police presence.
I left the community with my hope restored and praising God for Hazel and Officer Mike, two amazing neighborhood assets.
Please join me in praying for more officers like Mike and property managers like Hazel. Thank God for the work that they do and for the ways they seek to be great neighbors in neighborhoods across our nation.