This is part two of a two-part series detailing the efforts between community members and law enforcement officers who come together, work together and push forward together to make our cities better places to live. Last week’s blog highlighted Southaven’s Volunteer in Policing program; this week’s blog focuses on the recently launched Sheriffs and Police Activities League of Memphis and Shelby County (Memphis PAL).
When young, energetic, inquisitive, intelligent children get bored they must find ways to break free from this boredom. It is not a want; it is a need and a bell rung signifying the end of the school day does not instantaneously bring an end to this need. Some of our children are fortunate enough to attend schools with a plethora of after-school activities offered. Others are fortunate enough to have parents with the privilege of a flexible work schedule who are able to ensure their engagement in extracurricular events perhaps not offered by the schools attended. But for many American families the reality is that this plethora and privilege is not their reality: schools have endured countless budget cuts and parents are working longer hours than ever before just to maintain a no-frills household. Yet there still exists that need for our children to break free from that boredom and, unfortunately, without engagement in and of extra-curricular involvement, they are left to figure things out on their own. We have all seen what happens when children attempt to resolve boredom “on their own” which is why so many in the Memphis community, including members of the Memphis Police Department, have come together and pooled their resources to provide these energetic, inquisitive and intelligent children with the means to appropriate their gifts in ways that will still make them front page news, albeit now for all that is nice, not vice.
The recently launched Memphis and Shelby County PAL (Police Activities League) is expected to serve over 7,000 children in ways that will nurture their innate talents and provide safe spaces for them in which to grow, under the guidance of law enforcement officers who will “serve as coaches, referees and mentors.” Standing on illuminated footfall fields, our community’s children and police officers will be able to see each other in a different light. On our city’s basketball courts they will run with them, not away from them. It is not enough to say things ought to be different; there must be tangible, concrete ways of reaching out, rebuilding and unlearning so that the bridges which have been cracked and broken can be repaired and made stronger than what existed before. According to Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, “Starting a Police Activities League is a huge step in the right direction. Working with our youth through PAL will allow law enforcement officers and kids within our community to work together to build trust and long lasting friendships.”
As a non-profit dedicated to children ages 5-18, Memphis Shelby PAL offers numerous sports programs that will keep them busy and far away from boredom. These include baseball, softball, boxing, cheer, track, football and basketball. The volunteer law enforcement officers will also offer tutoring alongside “education, discovery and enrichment opportunities.” With our country’s NFL comprised of nearly 70% African American players and our NBA comprised of 74.4% African American players, in a city whose population is comprised of over 60% African American residents, we are bound to have a few professional athletes in the making! For the officers who are a part of this program, the goal is to be and make a difference in these children’s lives; in the process, the manner in which they interact with one another can be forever changed. Sergeant Craig Littles, Chief Visionary Officer, expresses why this endeavor is so important to him:
“Memphis Shelby PAL is the solution I’ve always envisioned to build a bridge between our cops and kids. We create positive change through lasting relationships built on mutual respect, trust and understanding. Our programs provide growth opportunities that empower kids to achieve their goals. I wish I could have benefited from a Police Activities League as a child. And as law enforcement officers, we now have the chance to be the mentor we’ve always wished we had.”
Since the program’s launch last month over 400 children have already signed up, with the initial goal of enrolling 600 kids for football and 240 kids to cheer by the start of their football season. Memphis parents and police officers are working together so that their children, our city’s children, will have the opportunities and outlets in which to thrive and succeed, in which to create and cultivate. Through their actions they are personifying the words of Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And it is best to build strong bridges that will endure the test of time rather than having to repair them because they weren’t properly constructed in the first place.