Making Positive Connections with youth through the Boys-In-Blue project.

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Picture this, inner city Richmond, Virginia; a city marred by racial stratification, high murder rates and higher poverty rates.  A place where drugs and poverty create an adversarial relationship between law enforcement officials and some of the people they protect.  Some adults and law enforcement have a tenuous relationship in Richmond. Those negative relationships often times trickle down to children.  When that cycle of mistrust and negativity continues, that cycle can create a generational challenge that is nearly impossible to break. So, how do you break that cycle and create positive relationships?

Enter, the Boys-In-Blue.  Yes, those boys; The Richmond Police Department.  And, some other boys; sixteen elementary school children from Swansboro Elementary School.  Boys-In-Blue represents an opportunity to break the cycle of negative relationships between some of Richmond’s youngest citizens and the Law Enforcement Officers sworn to serve and protect them.

Brigette Mimms- Sears is a special education teacher at Swansboro Elementary, and has seen first-hand how some young students need positive mentorship and guidance. She has also seen first-hand how these students view the police.  On the other side of the coin, Lt. Kelly O’Connell, Captain Dan Minton and Deputy Chief Steve Drew, had seen some of the toughest situations between the citizens of Richmond and the police.  But instead of turning the other way, together they dreamed up a program that would fill the gap and break the cycle.

So, this partnership between Swansboro Elementary and Richmond Police Department began.  There was never much of an expectation for success.  Only an attempt to expose students to police officers in a relaxed setting where they could interact in a non-threatening environment.  Lt. O’Connell suggested meeting at the school, where the students felt most comfortable.  Mrs. Sears agreed.  But, instead of just dropping in and saying hello, they decided upon an opening ceremony to kick off the year.

The opening ceremony included breakfast donated by area churches, balloons, selfies and a grand introduction of each student to their officer.  Lt. O’Connell and Captain Minton knew this could be something big and they were right.  Throughout the year, officers would stop by the school and meet with their mentee, while other times, they would stop in to give their mentee a high five or a positive affirmation.  They would talk about the school day, talk about what’s going on in the neighborhood, they talk about sports, staying out of trouble, and just about anything else.

Soon, the Boys-In-Blue were more than young urban males from Swansboro Elementary School and Richmond Police officers.  The Boys-In-Blue were friends.  Officer’s periodic stops became regularly scheduled meetings. Sometimes when the students made poor choices they would ask to see “…their officer…”  Officers would regularly stop in and have lunch with their student.  Lunch, the officers would purchase and bring in with their own money.  Sometimes even a snack for later in the day.  There was an expectation that the mentors and mentees would see each other at least once a week.

That’s when things got personal.  When the Officers would find out things in the neighborhood were not going well, they would not only check on disturbances, but they would also check on their students.  Students knew their officers by name and would see them in the neighborhood and run to them and not away from them.  One student was quoted as saying, “that’s not an officer that’s Big Country”.

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The cycle was breaking…..

The Officers were also finding ways to do more than show up at school and check up on their students.  Captain Minton and Deputy Chief Drew set up a day at the Richmond Squirrels baseball team.  The students attended the game, were announced and identified on the big scoreboard.  They had hotdogs, soda and chips.  They even had the opportunity to go down into the locker room and see where the athletes hang out.  This was a great day for the Boys-In-Blue.  The students and officers would remember it for a long time.  The Squirrels won, and so did the Boys-In-Blue.

The Boys-In-Blue touched lives; the lives of the officers and the students too.  Now, they weren’t two different groups, cops and kids, they were the Boys-In-Blue.  The final day of the Boys-In-Blue was glorious.  In true Swansboro Elementary fashion, Brigette Mimms-Sears put together a closing ceremony.  All the Boys-In-Blue were there.  And even though Deputy Chief Drew had to run to his new position in Newport News, he was there to say goodbye to his Boy in Blue.  The closing ceremony had flowers, gifts, breakfast, toys and news teams.  It was an intimate event where mentors and mentees could say “see you next year.”  Just a few weeks later, the students were ending their year. The RPD officers were going to continue to serve and protect the citizens of Richmond.

As a final surprise, the RPD officers covered the costs of all 16 boys to attend the summer long PALS (Police Athletic League) camp.  The costs included food, transportation and camp fees.  The Boys-In-Blue had an awesome time and are now ready for school.

To break a cycle, you have to do something sweeping.  The Boys-In-Blue is a radical group that takes into its own hands the lives and futures of Richmond students and officers. The Boys-In-Blue will be gearing up to change more lives next year.  It is gearing up to break cycles of mistrust and misunderstanding. It is creating a safe space for relationships and trust.  A place where Boys in Blue will always be true.

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