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At-risk youth get helping hand from PAL

caines | 11/15/2012, 5 a.m.

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City of Miamis Police Athletic League provide safe alternatives

It has been said that the Black male is Americas most endangered species. And with newspaper headlines and lunchtime conversations constantly referring to low graduation rates, high incarceration percentages and record unemployment among youth, its easy for many young adults be discouraged. Thats where the City of Miami Police Departments newly-revised Police Athletic League [PAL] has stepped in. According to Lieutenant Bernard Johnson, PAL just finished its second year of offering Pop Warner football to area youth and the number of children including cheerleaders has doubled to about 300 participants. What is the difference? Simple, says Johnson, we have direct police involvement. The coaches for the PAL are all police officers with the Miami police department. That makes our program safer because cops always around, he said. And its this built-in security that Johnson feels is something that really matters to parents as well as the key to the increase in youth participation. Our parents are very happy and very satisfied with the structure, Johnson said. Keeping kids safe is the primary goal Greslyn Joseph, mother of PAL participants Trent and Tajah Joseph, agrees. For me the biggest appeal is the sense of security and trust, says Joseph, who looked at a number of programs before choosing Curtis Park, where PAL practices and plays its football games. But the work of the PAL leaders extends beyond the playing field. Now theyre working on helping their kids improve their grades. Johnson says that he, along with fellow police officers like Majors Craig McQueen and Delrish Moss and Officers Kelvin Harris and Stanley Jean-Paul are setting up a better tracking system to keep up with [the student-athletes] grade point averages. For the PAL officers, it is all a big part of keeping Miamis youth in the park and out of trouble. In fact, PALs motto is building playgrounds, not prisons. But the biggest indicator of success for any youth-focused program in a metropolitan area is its impact on the overall lives of its participants once they go home. In short, does the PAL save more Black lives? Yes, Johnson said. Were giving these kids an alternative to criminal activity. And regularly supervised youth are less likely to get into trouble and more likely to pursue more positive activities. PAL is saving young lives, Joseph added. By Jos Prezjperez@miamitimesonline.com