ST. PETERSBURG — Land of the free and home of the brave is the claim of the United States’ National Anthem. Whether one is standing on these words or kneeling to protest them, there seems to be a gap between the feeling of being free and the comfort of a home.
In many communities globally, there seems to be a gap between the youth who are the future, and law enforcement assigned with the daily task of protecting that future. In an effort to draw the two sides closer, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Office of Prevention and Victim Services began a series of summits named Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) Awards Recognition.
The eighth Bridging the G.A.A.P. summit was held at Childs Park Recreational Center earlier this month. The organizers of this prevention initiative included Pat McGhee, Delinquency Prevention Specialist; Verla Lawson-Grady, Community Engagement Coordinator; Jill Gould, Specialist Project Coordinator and Adrienne Conwell, Reform Specialist.
Eighteen law enforcement officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and 21 youths from AMI KIDS, JDAP, Childs Park Neighborhood Association, PACE, Men in the Making and Gen 2 participated in the event.
For the past eight years, Pastor Dexter McCree of Anointed Word Fellowship has facilitated the G.A.A.P sessions.
“The local series of Pinellas G.A.A.P. conversations provide an effective, non-threatening, relationship building forum where youth develop better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement and where law enforcement officers gain a wider perspective of youth’s current world view,” said McGhee.
The panel and audience engaged in discussion of varies topics and perceptions relating to: Law enforcement presence in community and profiling, youth peer relationships/ influences, which created needed and incredible dialogue to bring two sides together as one.
As a special highlight to the event, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Prevention and Probation recognized and honored individuals from the community for their involvement and commitment in providing services to youth in Pinellas County that helps prevent youth from going deeper into the system.
To present the awards were Deputy Timothy Niermann and Assistant Secretary Alice Sims from the Office of Prevention and Victims Services in Tallahassee. Honorees included:
• Pastor Cindy Lane, G4S and Chair for the Circuit 6 & 13 Faith-Network Steering Committee
• Pastor Dexter McCree, Anointed Word Fellowship
• Pastor Martin Rainey, Minister of Christian Education, Trinity Presbyterian Church
• Honorable Judge Patrice Moore, Unified Family Court Administrative Judge in the Sixth Judicial Circuit
• School Board member Renee Flowers, Pinellas County Schools
• Sergeant Cynthia Davis, St. Petersburg Police Department
• Officer David Lopez, St. Petersburg Police Department
• Michael Jefferis, director of the City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation
• Brother John Muhammad, Childs Park Neighborhood Association
• Deborah Figgs-Sanders, director of Childs Park YMCA
• Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, community activist
The G.A.A.P. summit addressed what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of in his “I Have A Dream” speech: “A note of promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The summit was a collaboration and partnership between the Department of Juvenile Justice, St. Petersburg Police Department, the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation and Childs Park Recreation Center.