NEW YORK–Even though this is the country’s safest large city, the police and the inner city youth they serve and protect don’t always see eye to eye. In an effort to improve this relationship, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City launched an initiative called Bigs in Blue in 2017, which pairs police officers with young mentees in an effort to foster a positive relationship between police and the young people in their communities.
Big Andre Blain and Little Diovion Lewis happened to be matched in 2014 before the official launch of the program, and are just one of pairs that has exemplified the program’s effect on participants, and the impact this partnership could have on the community.
“Issues between our youth and the police have obviously been in the news, and has been an issue longer than it’s actually been in the news,” said Jon May, interim director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City.
He and the organization felt like they had an opportunity to improve the relationship between the police and youth in New York and in other cities in the country, where the organization is implementing the same initiative. The goal was to bring the two groups together so that they could learn from one another, and improve their relationship. Moreover, each side is able to gain a greater appreciation for each others’ worlds.
“It’s designed to create positive conversations between police officers and inner city youth,” May told The Epoch Times.
The intention is that mentees learn that there are paths to success, even if the mentees come from difficult environments. Furthermore, a lot of the police officers in the program have also come from rough circumstances, and they are empathetic role models for the young people they are paired with.
The police officers also learn from the mentees, and they gain perspective about the challenges they face.
Big and Little
Lewis met Blain in 2014 during his freshman year of high school.
Lewis grew up in Brooklyn under some rough circumstances, including witnessing someone get shot right before his eyes. His mother ended up signing him and his little brother up for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City.
Blain was a police officer for 25 years at the 70th precinct in Brooklyn, and going to various households responding to calls over the course of his career, he saw the importance of a program like this.
“A lot of the time when we get a domestic call where mother’s calling because their kid hasn’t come home, or their child has run away, and they’re having problems with their daughters, and I’ve noticed that the trend was that 90 percent of the homes didn’t have a male role model in the household, and there was big need for it,” Blain told The Epoch Times.
The veteran police officer wanted to find a way to help his community while off duty. He remembered the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and signed up to be a mentor in 2014.
When Lewis first met Blain, the situation was a little awkward. However, once they began speaking, Lewis learned that Blain was a police officer and Lewis, too, was interested in that field. Furthermore, the two found common ground in their passion for basketball, which Blain had played in high school. Lewis wanted to make his high school team, and Blain was eager to help develop his shooting and dribbling skills.
“I said it’s hard work. You’ve got to be out there in the park, rain, snow, heat. Sometimes you’ve got to shovel snow out of the playground just to learn how to shoot and everything else, so it’s hard work,” Blain said.
Blain taught him how to shoot a jump shot, how to shoot with both right and left hands, and they would grab a bite afterward. The two have spent the last four years as a mentor-mentee pair, and have had enjoyable and valuable experiences together. Despite a lack of interest in football, Lewis looked forward the program’s flag football game called Gridiron Games.
“That was fun, and I’m not really into football like that, but I was looking forward [to it]. When I first heard about that, it was a new experience,” Lewis told The Epoch Times. “I was like we can check it out. When we got there I enjoyed it.”
The pair was also heavily engaged in community service, and had several opportunities to give back. Blain and Lewis volunteered for the Precious Dreams Foundation, and put together care packages for those who had been affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. Lewis also helped Blain volunteer at his church where they helped distribute food and warm clothes to the less fortunate.
“It just felt good helping people,” Lewis recalled. “I try to set an example for my little brothers, so doing that [was] adding on what I could pass on to my brothers.”
The pair also had the opportunity to have some fun, too. Lewis vividly remembers attending a New York Knicks game with Blain, and had a blast particularly because Blain is an ardent Knicks fan. The two also played pick-up basketball together, and Blain continued to push Lewis to become better.
Blain wrote a college recommendation for Lewis, and now he’s attending Kingsborough College. Lewis wants to be a creative director and a poet, and the young man is well on his way to achieving his dreams. He’s a bright young college student now, and he remains eager to continue to grow.
“I have to open my mind more. There’s a lot more to learn,” Lewis said.
“He has a good code of moral values, which I was very impressed with,” Blain said of Lewis.
The former police officer has continued to mentor Lewis while he attends college, and has recently retired in Florida after 25 years of duty. Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City continues to serve 5,500 young people across the city every year.
“I need to do more,” Blain said. “I need to do more, and be out there and try to help out as many of these kids as possible.”