Wednesday, April 6, 2011

From Central High to Harvard Law School: PC on the Road

April 4, 2011
Harvard Law School, Cambridge MA.

"When are we picking up Sam"? "Which school do we pick up from first"? "Who has the parking pass"? 

All part of  the usual conversation in the fast-paced, day-to-day operations of an after-school program with an infinite number of moving parts and a plethora of unexpected challenges to navigate. What transpired for the rest of this afternoon - and most of the evening - was anything but 'normal'. A little less than two hours after leaving the parking lot of Central High School in Springfield, MA, the three Project Coach directors and three of their most promising youth coaches were immersed in an enthralling lecture within the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School.

Thanks to the efforts of Allie Canton (Amherst College alum, 2nd year HLS student) and former Project Coach 'redshirt' alum Arianna Miliotis, current blueshirts Joseph Wray, Kiana Figueroa, and Xavier Rosario were treated to an experience unlike any before, as they became special guests of esteemed HLS professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. during a session of the lecture series "Race and Justice". In a unique approach, Professor Ogletree uses topics and scenarios that are dealt with in acclaimed HBO show The Wire to help impress upon students their legal and moral implications. Upon meeting Allie and Arianna, the coaches took their place in the audience, as those present were treated to a soul-stirring recital of the poem "Invictus", amongst other works, by the Young Kings of the Renaissance Charter School in Boston, at the conclusion of which the guest speakers for the evening took their places at the podium.

Heading the panel - as with many sessions during the lecture series - was an actor or actress from the The Wire; on this occasion Sonja Sohn, who plays Detective Kima Greggs. Ms Sohn was joined by the Program Director of "Rewired for Life", a youth development organization located in East Baltimore, and Commander Melvin Russell of the Baltimore PD. Ms Sohn began the panel discussion by describing the inspiring work of "Rewired for Life", for which she - and several cast members from The Wire - devotes considerable time and resources. Citing the need to "reignite the culture of concern in East Baltimore" as the primary motivating factor for her involvement, Ms Sohn described the pressing need for services such as homework help, fitness programs, and community building to help youth and adults alike to see the need to develop relations with those around them. Of particular salience to Project Coach were her remarks around the importance of educating adults in civic engagement to ensure that the values being taught in "Rewired for Life" are replicated and reinforced in the homes of the youth participants.

Commander Russell followed Ms Sohn's impassioned plea for the support of programs such as "Rewired for Life" and Project Coach by describing his twenty-plus years of service to the Baltimore PD in its undercover narcotics division. Wrangling with the notion of retirement after years of frustration at the lack of collaboration between the police and the East Baltimore community, Russell rejected the 'easy path' and decided to devote the remainder of his career to forging better links between his force and local residents, through meaningful discussions around the notions of affordable housing, job creation, and "taking the little, isolated fires of progress" and making one united front for positive development. As a result of these steps, homicides and shootings in the East Baltimore district that Commander Russell heads up fell by a greater percentage than any other district last year.

A moment of particular pride for Project Coach took place soon after, when during the Q & A session that proceeded the panel presentations, Coaches Joseph Wray and Xavier Rosario followed up on an initial inquiry posed by a Boston University professor to ask their own questions of the panelists. Their questions, and the responses from panelists, can be seen below:

However, perhaps the most influential discussion was reserved for the end of the night over pizza, as Project Coach youth quizzed Allie about her choice of career, and the path that she took to Harvard. Coach Joe was particularly captivated by the sense of hard work and devotion that Allie espoused as she debunked the myth that HSL was the sole reserve of the elite and wealthy. Such discussions rolled over into the van ride home, as Joe articulately explained his interest in the legal profession, and the ways that he might go about following a similar route to that of Allie.

Project Coach's sincere thanks go to Allie and Arianna, along with Professor Ogletree and others at HSL for providing us with such a warm welcome!

Andy Wood
Program Director.

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