Since 1990 the OK Program has touched the lives of hundreds of African-American boys and their families. Today, most of those boys – who probably would have taken a different path in life if not for the OK Program – are thriving because of the values and life-long learning experiences they garnered from the Program. In many cases the OK Program has not only changed lives, it has saved lives. Here are a few of their stories.
Saving Precious Lives...
One African-American Male At A Time
By the time he was a ninth grader in 1991, Brian Miller had encountered more challenges than most people face in a lifetime. Abandoned at 4-years old by his drug-addicted mother, Brian had a juvenile record and was headed back to court as a result of breaking into a house. Unfortunately, like too many young African-American boys, Brian was teetering on the precipice of incarceration which could easily have been his life’s reality for years to come. A life change was needed.
Little did former Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Donald Northcross know that some of the changes he was making would cause significant disruptions in Brian’s life. Northcross – aptly known as Dep – had grown tired of seeing the criminal justice system gobble up African-American boys. After lamenting over the absence of people – especially African-American men – stepping up to help black boys turn their lives around, he realized that it was not only his calling, but also his time to help make change happen. while still a Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Dep founded the OK (Our Kids) Program, designed to reduce the extremely high and disproportionate rates of incarceration that black boys face.
The day after meeting Brian, Dep found himself in court speaking on his behalf and assuring the judge that he would serve as a mentor and be the positive influence that had been missing in Brian’s life. The judge’s solution for the troubled youth was clear – either join the OK Program or face incarceration. For Brian – who usually had not made the best decisions for himself in the past – joined the OK Program, and as it is often said, the rest is history. The OK Program and Dep’s mentoring and support helped Brian turn his life around. Instead of incarceration, his life took another direction including a high school and associate’s degree, followed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Today, Brian is the Dean of Students at Arkansas Baptist College and is quick to state that the OK Program changed…if not saved, his life.
Brian’s story is not unlike that of many African-American males since 1990 have been touched by the OK Program, a mentoring best practice in the African-American community.
Today, the OK Program, which brings together police and pastors to recruit, train and organize African-American men to mentor black boys 12 to 18 years old, has six chapter cities including: Indianapolis, IN; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Little Rock, AR; Monroe, LA; and Oakland, CA.
Each chapter has established strong working partnerships with the local police departments who assign an African-American police officer to work full-time with the OK Program. Under the officer’s guidance, Black men are serving as positive role models and mentors for their younger counterparts. The mentors are called “TEAMMATES”, because the OK Program is based on a team-mentoring concept which enables the mentors to take responsibility for leading the way in helping change the course of young African-American males. The Kansas City chapter, for example, reports that there has been a 30 percent reduction in disciplinary action with its OK boys.
Additionally, school administrators and teachers play a critical role in the OK Program by providing a level of support that is necessary for the program to be successful. The support encourages OK students to excel and achieve a high level of academic excellence.
As communities across the country seek ways to establish trust and stronger bonds between law enforcement and the African-American community, the OK Program has the answer for improving cooperation and collaboration between police departments and the communities they serve. Its approach to mentoring African-American boys has been working since 1990. To that end, the OK Program launched the “100,000 Strong National African American Male Mentor Initiative” in 2013. The goal of the initiative is to enlist 100,000 African-American men, to mentor African American boys.
The increased number of mentors will fuel OK’s national expansion… especially to those cities that have recently experienced unrest following the shootings of African-American males, and more importantly, to those communities that want to implement solutions for improving police community relationships. To support its growth initiatives, the OK Program is also launching a fundraising effort that will expand its programs directed at saving the lives of young African-American boys. As one OK supporter suggested, “every city in the country needs the OK Program.”
From Suffering to Success
The OK Program Way
Marlow Rockwell still remembers the details of a life-changing moments that happened when he was in the 10th grade. It was the knocking on his first-floor bedroom window that got his attention. Several of his friends had assembled to present to him with what they thought was an inviting proposition.
“They told me they were on their way to steal a car and wanted me to go with them. I was at the point where I was tired of running the streets and engaging in some of the crimes we had done. It just wasn’t me anymore. So I didn’t go. Plus, I had just been to a meeting about the OK Program and although I hadn’t fully engaged, I think me not going that night and later becoming fully involved in OK was God’s timing and his way of getting me to turn my life around.”
According to Marlow, his teen years were pretty tough times. In addition, to hanging out with the wrong crowd, he also had family challenges. His father was not in the home, and although two uncles supported him and were there for Marlow, their lifestyles were wrapped around what he describes as the “street life.” His frustration was so great that he would often come home from school, change clothes, and disappear to friend’s houses for two or three days to avoid a troubling home environment. “This was a period when the male role models in my life were not the best.”
As a 10th grader at Rancho Cordova High School, in Rancho Cordova, California, where he excelled in football and basketball, Marlow had another life-changing experience which also would impact the rest of his life. He was not impressed after attending the OK introductory meeting. “I was use to people making promises to me that they never kept. I thought OK would be more of the same. But I started hearing from my friends who were attending the Saturday KIC’IT* sessions how much fun they were having hanging with the mentors, discussing interesting topics, playing sports, and eating some really good food. I wanted some of that.”
So Marlow started attending the sessions as well, sometimes walking a pretty long distance to make sure he got there. He began listening to and learning from the founder of the OK Program, Donald Northcross, who at the time was a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy. Better known as Dep, Northcross had grown tired of seeing the criminal justice system gobble up African-American boys. After lamenting over the absence of people – especially African-American men – stepping up to help black boys turn their lives around, he realized that it was not only his calling, but also his time to help make change happen. Dep founded the OK (Our Kids) Program, to reduce the extremely high and disproportionate rates of incarceration that black boys face, and to promote academic excellence that leads to leadership and critical thinking skills.
Marlow explains it best. “High school was tough for me, but the OK Program help turn it around. Dep showed me that he really cared about my well-being. When I was playing basketball, I’d look up in the stands and there was Dep and Officer Turner who also worked with OK boys. It was the first time that I felt like I mattered. The positive reinforcement I got from the OK program was great.”
After graduating from High School, Marlow attended American River College, a community college in Sacramento, where he was an All-Conference basketball player. His playing time was cut short, however, when he dropped out of school and began working three job so he could take care of his younger siblings. Understanding the life-changing power he had experienced with the OK Program, Marlow made sure during this period of time that his two younger brothers also got involved in the program.
With his family stable, Marlow returned to American River College and graduated. He then attended Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, where he played football and basketball and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology. He later received a Master’s in Sports Management from American Public University. Currently, Marlow is an Education Outreach Coordinator and Assistant - Women’s Varsity Basketball Coach at Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“The values I have today, I learned from the O.K. Program. Dep remains a mentor and has been like a father to me over the years. My mother believes that one of the best things she ever did was move us to Rancho Cordova where we got involved in the OK Program. She is extremely thankful for all that the program and Dep have done for our family.
“It was because of him that I was able to get my current job and coaching position. And many of the brothers I met in the OK Program are still my best friends today. My job puts me in touch with low-income at risk youth who are the first in their families to attend college. I feel comfortable passing on to them much of what I experienced and learned from the OK Program.”
*Every Saturday, KIC’IT (Kids Interacting Communicating Immix Teammates) sessions bring together OK Program police officers and Black men to develop a strong relationship and share life experiences with young African-American males.
Carlos Diamond Francies
OK Program Establishes Memorial Scholarship to Honor Former OK Student
Whenever he was called on for help, he answered. That was just who Carlos “Diamond” Francies was. Diamond died August 13, 2015, at the age of 30 while attempting to save a friend whom he thought was drowning while enjoying a day off in Lake Tahoe. A deputy sheriff for Contra Costa County, Diamond was dedicated to public service and giving back to his community.
“There is no greater love that a man can have than to lay down his life for a friend. That’s Diamond’s legacy,” said Donald (Dep) Northcross, founder of the OK Program.
Diamond joined the OK Program in sixth grade and graduated from the program in 2002. He stayed in touch with Dep over the years, considering him a lifelong mentor. In return for the critical guidance he had received from Dep, Diamond gave back by volunteering his time to mentor young men now in the program that had given him so much. But that was only part of why Diamond will forever be missed.
“He was one of the first young men I would call when I wanted things to get done right. I could always count on him…he was a very special person,” said Dep.
As a tribute to Diamond, the OK Program has established the Carlos Diamond Francies Law Enforcement Scholarship. The scholarship will assist OK Program Alumni around the country who enter law enforcement academies.
“When young men are accepted into the academies, they often have a need for financial assistance during their training period,” said Dep. “The scholarship will provide that assistance, but most importantly it will long honor the life of a former OK student, a great role model, and an incredible person.”