Doing What it Takes

Though The ACE Project promotes the ideals of the "Five Cs" model (connection, caring/compassion, character, confidence, and competence) through our programs, the tension that exists between residents and local police departments creates significant barriers as we work to unite the communities we serve. In Chicago, though homicide rates dropped in 2017, the Justice Department reported that the Chicago Police Department "is beset by widespread racial bias, excessive use of force, and poor training", which has contributed to the dissipation of trust across the city. In Baltimore, the situation is even more dire as within the last year, the city had "the highest murder rate in its history." Since efforts to prosecute the Baltimore officers involved in Freddie Gray's death failed, residents have been impelled to reshape their understanding of justice and authority but not in a direction that instills hope for their safety and well-being. Overall, ACE participants and their families experience an unsettling fear as many leave their homes in the summer to escape the violence, opting instead to stay with family members in the south. For families without this outlet, they gravitate indoors as the summer passes by. There must be a better way, but what will it take to protect youth from becoming a statistic?

Last December, The ACE Project was selected by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Foundation as a host site for Serve and Connect, an expanded community engagement project that brings together local police officers and students to teach the value of academic accomplishment, living healthy lifestyles, and responsible decision making. This program, which is the outgrowth of a program created, tested, and refined over the past several years in Boston by the Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center, has been adapted by organizations across the country in partnership with the USTA Foundation, and now, it will be launched in Baltimore and Chicago, two cities notorious for their long history of conflict between community residents and the police.

Serve and Connect will kick-off on February 23rd at Roosevelt Elementary School in Riverdale/Dolton and at Calvin Rodwell Elementary School in Baltimore. Each event will unite over 150 participants, comprising of students, their families, school administration, community leaders, and local police officers. There will be music, giveaways, and plenty of food to create a fun, welcoming environment for all; moreover, both kick-off events will give students and police officers a chance to collaborate in a series of tennis-focused exercises and challenges.

Following the kick-off events in both cities, Calvin Rodwell Elementary School in Baltimore and Roosevelt and Lincoln Elementary Schools in Riverdale/Dolton will offer an 8-week program that includes tennis activities, a life skills curriculum, and a light dinner each Friday after school. Approximately 100 students will be enrolled between the 3 sites as ACE coaches coordinate with local police officers to build a stronger network of support within the community. At the beginning and end of the program, students will be asked to complete a survey that measures their trust and confidence in the police officers. The ACE Project will also host open gyms to engage students who are not enrolled in the program. This will provide youth with an opportunity to try tennis (many for the first time) as well as interact with police officers, boosting Serve and Connect's impact. 

In partnership with the USTA, it is our hope that the youth and their families engaged in these programs begin to see law enforcement as mentors, friends, and coaches building mutual respect in their communities. Moreover, The ACE Project will build a bridge between our programs and the police departments. Though it may not resolve the tension in these areas completely, Serve and Connect establishes a path toward greater security and trust; this way, we can continue strengthening community connections that benefit the lives (and livelihood) of youth.