LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Greeted by a special handshake, sixth grade students at Dunbar Magnet Middle School were happy to see Little Rock police Sgt. Willie Davis during lunch.
Davis is the coordinator of the O.K. (Our Kids) Program, which brings together black police officers and pastors to train black men in the community to become mentors to young boys. The goal of the program is to guide the kids in the right direction.
"We're not suggesting that the O.K. Program is a fix all. That's not what it is, but we can cultivate an environment at these schools to where these kids can understand the importance of learning, an education and critical thinking,” Sgt. Davis said.
The OK Program has partnered with Dunbar for the past decade. Principal Eunice Thrasher has been there from the beginning.
"They provide these young men with attributes for life, things that will help them as young men, not only in school, but in the community and for life,” Thrasher said.
Many of the boys in the program have grown up in a single parent home, which is something Davis said he can personally relate to.
"I didn't have that man to tell me how to do this, how to do that, how to treat a woman,” Sgt. Davis said. “A lot of these young black males I deal with had the same experiences I've had, but it's different now because I'm here to tell them, 'You don't have to feel that way. Un-ball your fist. I love you, man. I'm not your dad, but I'm an advocate, so we're going to take care of you and make it right.'"
Researchers have found after 18 months with a mentor, children were 65 percent more likely to obtain a higher level of education than they thought was possible. Davis said over the years 18 OK Program boys have gone on to graduate from local colleges.
The O.K. Program is free and open to African-American males between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. The program is currently offered to students at Central High School, Hall High School, Dunbar Magnet Middle school, Forest Heights STEM Academy and Henderson Middle School.