Gentlemen take the OGA oath.                                                                Photos by Heidi Randhava

Gabe Rosen was “kind of skeptical” when he joined the first class of the Officer and Gentlemen Academy two years ago. He soon learned that “The officers care about us. They want the best for us. They are trying to prepare us for life,” he told the crowd of some 100 people at the Jan. 26 kickoff for the Officer and Gentlemen Academy.

Like all the Gentlemen in OGA, Gabe wore a shirt and tie to the kickoff – attire each Gentleman (student) wears to school on the days that OGA meets.

OGA – Origin and Evolution
Evanston Police Officers Adam Howard and Ervin de Leon, together with District 65 Student Engagement Coordinator Bryon Harris, created the Officer and Gentlemen Academy

The after-school sessions are classes in life, where 10-15 middle-schoolers, mentored by Evanston Police Officers and District 65 personnel, learn how to navigate the sometimes tricky road from middle-school to high school and beyond.

Originally designed for young Black males, the program is open to middle-school males identified by Evanston police officers, teachers, social workers, principals, OGA parents, and community members who believe they would benefit from the program.

In the 12-week program, the Gentlemen learn how to tie a tie, dress and act appropriately, make a financial plan and develop a roadmap for their post-high-school futures.

“We also have extracurricular activities that involve team building, problem solving, and critical thinking. We attend baseball games, plays, museums, etc. At the conclusion of the 12 weeks, we host our fundraising event known as the empowerment breakfast to celebrate the accomplishments of our young men. During the summer, we host events to keep the Gentlemen engaged with each other and our officers. It’s important for officers and students to continually communicate even after the program concludes,” Evanston Police Officer Adam Howard told the RoundTable.

The program now extends to Evanston Township High School, where OGA “graduates” can serve as big brothers to freshmen, Officer Howard said.

Each session begins with a half-hour of homework help and ends with a family-style supper. A school was the usual site for an OGA session, but last year Fire Chief Brian Scott opened the training room at Fire Headquarters on Lake Street for the sessions. He told the RoundTable he extended the invitation again this year, “for as many meetings as they want.”

Changes in location help the mentors assess the adaptive response of the Gentlemen, Officer Howard said. “In life, new environments can sometimes have adverse effects on people. We’re human so its expected, but we want the Gentlemen to be resilient and learn to adapt to new environments.”

The police officers occasionally pop in at school – Chute, Haven, Nichols, King Arts or Evanston Township High School – to see how the Gentlemen are doing. If asked, they meet with family members to help iron out a problem.

Natalie Lewis, the parent-community leader, keeps the lines of communication – and accountability – open among parent, teachers and police officers.

“Our hope is that the young men discover that there is a team of people that care about them. We are collectively committed to their growth and development,” said Officer Howard.

Kickoff for the Academy
At the kickoff, Lachisa Barton, whose son Carlos Connor is a Gentleman again this year, said she appreciates the “relationship the officers maintain with the parents. Raising an African American son is hard today.”

The Police Officers of OGA see their role there as a companion to their police duties.

Officer Howard told the audience, “We have a responsibility not only as police officers but as mentors to have hard conversations.” This year, he said, the Officers “will have to answer tough questions: ‘Why did a police officer shoot Laquan McDonald?’ ‘Why did you arrest someone for “stealing” his own car?’

“We have to have these conversations. We do it for our kids and our community. Serving and protecting the community is our duty. Mentoring our youth is our purpose.”

Officer Howard described the goals of each of the gentlemen, all of which involve education after high school. Several already know which college they plan to attend, and one knows the kind of business he will open.

Deputy Police Chief James Pickett, District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren and Pastor Zollie Webb spoke to the Gentlemen, who were sitting at the School Board dais.

“I want you to know these officers believe in you,” said Deputy Chief Pickett.

Dr. Goren told the Gentlemen their goals “are the goals we have for you. … Daniel Burnham said, ‘Make no little plans,’ and that’s exactly what you are doing. … Reach for the stars and we will be behind you, because we have big plans for you and where you go – to support you and love you.”

Pastor Webb of Friendship Baptist Church said the Gentlemen should “feel good to see that police officers and school officials care about them. I challenge you young men to take this opportunity. If you are determined and someone cares about you, you will succeed.”

Sergeant Ken Carter thanked the audience members for their continual support. To the family members he said, “Thank you for your trust with your greatest asset – your children.”

The Board room at the Joseph Hill Education Center was packed with supporters and family members on Jan. 26 for the kickoff of the third OGA. Retired Police Chiefs William Logan and Richard Eddington attended the kickoff, as did former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and current Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite.

Officer Howard publicly thanked Chief Edington for his support of the program from the beginning, saying, “Without you, we would not be here.” Chief Eddington told the RoundTable working with Officer Howard to launch the OGA was “the essence of leadership management.” Chief Eddington said he provided support, but Officer Howard took full responsibility for the program.