By Larry Stanford
CONYERS — The OK Program for young black males is coming to Rockdale County. That was the message that Darron Storey, executive director of the program, brought with him to a meeting with members of The Leadership Team recently.
“We have entered into an agreement,” Storey said. “Sheriff (Eric) Levett has signed a memorandum of understanding for Rockdale County, so the OK Program is coming to Rockdale County. That is good news. We’re excited to be coming to the area. Thank you to all of you at The Leadership Team that helped bring this together.”
Rockdale County Sheriff Levett said later that he is a supporter of any program that will help the youth in the county.
“This program seems to have been very beneficial for the children in its respective states now and throughout different cities,” Levett said. “And so after hearing several residents of Rockdale County compliment this program and the effort that this program is trying to do for Rockdale County, I couldn’t do anything but give it a try. After reading the memorandum of understanding, we have no obligation other than using our own personnel to help partnership and build trust with these youth. The police chief and I both talked about this. He was on board at first and then I jumped on board with him and the OK Program. We’re going to give it a try.”
The OK (Our Kids) National Mentoring Program is a unique program that focuses on black men mentoring black male youths. In March, the founder of the program, Donald Northcross, came to Conyers to talk to The Leadership Team. Northcross is a former pro football player from Arkansas whose career was cut short by a knee injury. He ended up in California and became a deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office in 1990. It was as a law enforcement officer having to deal with young black men breaking the law that Northcross developed his plan for the OK Program.
“We focus on African-American males because as black men, it is our responsibility to raise our boys,” Storey said. “Only black men can relate to black boys properly. It is also our responsibility as men in the community, when fathers are checked out, we have to stand in the gap, because we can deal with these issues that are germane to us. There are issues that are germane to African-American males, and only germane to us.”
The key to the OK Program lies within the law enforcement community, with the assistance of the civic, religious and educational organizations in the community. The OK Program recruits a black police officer to run the local chapter, with the approval of his law enforcement department, which will keep him on its payroll as an officer. The program trains the officer and establishes him back in his city with an advisory board. He then works with black boys from sixth grade through 12th grade and develops a network of “teammates” — fellow black men willing and wanting to mentor the youths.
The boys in the program, who are nominated by their parents, are required to show citizenship in school and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Those that do that every grading period get to enjoy special activities and go on trips. Plus, on Saturdays, they have Kic’It sessions where the mentors get with the boys, talk to them, eat lunch with them, and have recreation with them.
Northcross began the program 25 years ago in Sacramento, and it has spread to five other major cities around the nation, with more getting ready to come on line. Storey told The Leadership Team that the success of the program can be seen in the graduates, many of whom have become successful businessmen and educators around the nation. Storey gave the example of Brian Miller, one of Northcross’ first students.
“Brian Miller was facing five years in jail. He was a 29th Street Crip in Sacramento,” Storey said. “His mother had left him and his siblings in a hotel room and abandoned them. Now Brian Miller is the dean of students at Arkansas Baptist College. When we say this program is transformative, it is not just something that sounds cool. We think we have the proof in the outcomes of the graduates of the program.”
The only remaining hurdle for the OK Program is getting an MOU signed with the Rockdale County School System. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Garrett Brundage attended the meeting and said later that once a couple of details in the MOU are ironed out, that he thinks the school system will be in support of the program.