Boys and Girls Club

Opinion

Rebuilding Trust Among Communities, Teens and Law Enforcement

Jim Clark

This blog is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.

Community policing. It’s a frequent headline and topic of conversation, where we often hear about a lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

In a 2016 survey of more than 1,200 Boys & Girls Club teens, approximately half reported they were afraid to interact with law enforcement. Additionally, about one-third said there were not enough opportunities for young people and law enforcement to interact positively.

A recent America’s Promise Alliance study, Barriers to Wellness, found that only 20 percent of respondents in Boston agreed with the statement that, “Young people in my community go to the police if they need help.”

These are statistics we need to change.

Recently, Boys & Girls Clubs of America convened thought leaders in Washington, D.C., to establish a public-private partnership to build bridges in communities where police shootings and violence have disconnected many local youth.

The partnership aims to:

  • establish mentoring relationships between males of color and law enforcement officials,
  • create a dialogue between youth and law enforcement to create a safe space for workable solutions, and
  • elevate the presence of law enforcement agencies and officials within the Club environment.

As a first step, Boys & Girls Club professionals and youth from around the country will join the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Ford Foundation, and leaders from many organizations in this space – including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI National Academy Associates, National Organization of Black Executives in Law Enforcement, and US Chamber of Commerce, among others – to discuss the crisis facing America’s youth, communities and law enforcement.

With a Club in every Congressional district, Boys & Girls Clubs have a unique perspective on the state of America’s youth. We believe building safer, stronger communities is the foundation for putting every young person on the path to a great future.

Boys and Girls ClubFor decades, our Clubs have partnered with local, state and federal governments, law enforcement, and numerous others to ensure the safety of Club kids. Along our journey, we’ve also learned that keeping kids safe behind Club doors is just the beginning of our responsibility.

Kids come to our Clubs because what’s inside is often better than the environment outside – whether it’s the dark shadow of gun violence; the trauma created by generations faced with lack of opportunity, inequality, and implicit bias; or the hopelessness youth face without mentors, educational or economic opportunities.

In conjunction with our recent dialogue, thousands of Club teens participated in youth-led dialogues with law enforcement and community leaders at more than 125 Clubs around the country; many more will occur over the next several months. And these dialogues are leading to progress.

A few examples:

  • In the nation's capital, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington youth developed and led an #OurLivesMatter town hall roundtable consisting of teens, law enforcement and community members. Discussions focused on societal issues including police interactions with youth, educational advocacy, community violence, and conflict resolution. The Club will launch another dialogue series in March, continuing to focus on strategies to empower teens and help them express themselves to create change.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis has focused on increasing law enforcement visibility in the Club to build relationships. The Club has partnered with the Juvenile Justice Council, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Memphis Police Department to form the Police Activities League, where police officers serve as mentors in Clubs and community centers around Memphis.

I ask everyone to join Boys & Girls Clubs of America and our partners in this critical conversation. Together, let’s lead at a time where inequality, rancor and division are distracting our country from the important task of rebuilding our communities.

Together, let’s build supportive relationships, trust and healing. Together, let’s #Recommit2Kids to create opportunity for kids and teens in communities across the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Clark is president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, one of six founding partners that helped launch America’s Promise nearly 20 years ago to call the nation to put differences aside and act on behalf of children and youth. Clark leads a network of more than 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs that serve some 4 million young people annually. More than 50,000 professional staff members operate the Clubs, supported by some 285,000 board and program volunteers.

[1] 2016 Boys & Girls Clubs of America Keystone Teen Survey taken by 1,264 Club teens ages 14-18 years old.