The OK Program: A Collaborative Partnership between Law Enforcement and the African-American Community

More than 25 years ago, Sacramento County (California) Sheriff's Deputy Donald Northcross founded the OK (Our Kids) Program, a leadership development model for African-American boys between the ages of 12 and 18—beginning in sixth grade through secondary school and beyond. Northcross worked to counter the high rates of homicide and incarceration he was seeing in his work as a law enforcement officer while empowering African-American men to be “teammate mentors” and create lasting relationships with boys and young men.

Today, the program is nationally recognized with chapters across the country, most recently welcoming Indianapolis, Indiana. Each chapter of the OK Program is a partnership between local police officers, school and government administration, faith-based community leaders, and African-American men who work together with youth from sixth grade through high school. The community takes ownership and responsibility for their local chapter including selection of the law enforcement officers who will work in the school with students during the week, over summer break, and every Saturday. Kids Interacting, Communicating Immix Teammates (KIC’IT) sessions are led Saturdays by teammate volunteers and include curriculum and training sessions facilitated by the school law enforcement officers, mentoring, lunch, prayer, and recreation for the youth. African-American men volunteer as “teammate mentors” and commit to a minimum of three KIC’IT session Saturdays to teach leadership and critical thinking skills, although most volunteer countless hours of their time to the program. The teammate mentors are positive, grassroots role models and leaders within their local communities. Rather than one-on-one meetings, the OK Program uses teammate mentors who work together with all the students registered in the local chapter, and as Deputy Northcross says, “You get a lot of people doing work, it gets done” to provide team mentoring to students.

One of the main goals of the OK Program is to improve relationships between African-American communities and law enforcement within local communities. The program is an example of community policing in the 21st century, with leaders and adults in schools that reflect the diversity and cultural background of the youth. Further, many of the young men who have participated in the OK Program become law enforcement officers and leaders within their communities as well as volunteers for the OK Program. Executive Director Darron Story and founder Deputy Northcross work with community leaders and law enforcement agencies across the country as well as local, state, and federal governments to communicate the positive outcomes of the OK Program, including increased graduation rates and higher grades for youth in the local chapters, strengthening the local community, and a collaborative partnership between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. The OK Program is “empowering black men and boys to transform their communities.”

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