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“We’ve learned from them, and they’ve learned from us,”
said Evanston Police Officer Ervin de Leon about the 14 young men who were honored at the Officer & Gentlemen Academy’s second annual Empowerment Breakfast on May 18 at Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston.
“It started with young men learning how to tie a tie. A year later these students are helping others learn to tie a tie,” said
Officer de Leon.
The Officer & Gentlemen Academy, described by Officer de Leon as “the brainchild” of fellow Evanston Police Officer Adam Howard, is a male mentoring program in partnership with the Evanston Police Department and Evanston/Skokie School Districts
65 and 202.
The program is built on a shared responsibility for teaching and learning. Unlike more traditional models where students basically adhere to what is asked or offered by the adults in charge, OGA focuses on mentoring to build strong, supportive relationships that foster an exchange of knowledge between mentor and student.
OGA provides education and mentorship to sixth- through ninth-grade students identified by Evanston police officers, teachers, social workers, principals and community members who believe they would benefit from the program.
The Gentlemen (students) are mentored by Evanston Police Officers and District 65 personnel. The curriculum-based sessions and extracurricular activities, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, encompass concepts ranging from male etiquette to positive interactions with law enforcement.
Mentees recognize that wearing a tie to school on days that OGA meets is just one of many ways OGA helps them prepare for leadership opportunities. “Being a gentleman means you have to treat others with the respect you want to be treated with,” said OGA class president and ETHS freshman Celister “Tre” Wright in his message to the community.
Keynote speaker and best-selling author, poet, and television personality J.L. Kirkwood reflected on his own youth, growing up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.
“I saw opportunity where some people saw obstacles,” said the author, who is also a certified career and relationship coach. Addressing the young Gentlemen, he said, “Don’t let anybody impair your vision for yourself.”
Mr. Kirkwood emphasized the critical role that mentors play in “paving the way” for people to reach their full potential. “We’re in a room full of people who are putting their words with their actions. Celebrate what you bring to the community, our kids, and the future,” he said.
Other guest speakers, including Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook, Evanston/Skokie District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren, and parent Kendra Glover, spoke about the importance of community partnerships in developing future leaders.
Speaking about how OGA has impacted her son, Celister “Tre” Wright, Ms. Glover said, “At first I had reservations about the program. How could the Evanston police mentor my son as a young Black male?”
She is happy she decided to let her son participate and form his own opinion about OGA. “It taught him how to be a voice for himself and others, to be a leader, to know when to follow and how to follow,” she said.
OGA co-founder Officer Howard said much of the program’s success can be attributed to support provided by the “fairy godmothers,” a group of women in the community who contribute their organizational skills in providing meals, rides to meetings when needed, and behind the scenes work that keeps the program running smoothly.
A highlight of the event was the presentation of gifts from the Gentlemen to each of the women who volunteer their time as fairy godmothers.
The program concluded with a special presentation of 2019 Officer and Gentlemen Academy Awards to Nichols Middle School teacher Azra Hadimuratović and retired Evanston Police Chief Bill Logan for their service and commitment to youth in our community.
Ms. Hadimuratović received the Badges and Books Award, presented by Darrion Coleman. “This award is for one of my favorite teachers, who did her best to support me in my education,” Darrion said.
In accepting the award, Ms. Hadimur-atović thanked her students, their parents and the OGA mentors with whom she collaborates to help African American male students reach their full potential.
“Relationships are imperative for teaching many African American youth,” said Ms. Hadimuratović, who believes that teachers as well as students benefit from relationship-building. She said she is grateful to her students for “teaching me to change my ways by understanding each student better.” Ms. Hadimuratović said she has watched two of her students, Darrion Coleman and Christopher Cannon, “mature and gain confidence due to the efforts of officers like Officer Howard and Officer de Leon.”
Sergeant Ken Carter presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to retired Police Chief William Logan.
“I am honored and privileged to present an award to a man who really needs no introduction – an innovator, a coach, a teacher, a role model, a mentor, a veteran,
a chief, a leader and a friend,” said Sgt. Carter.
Born and raised in Evanston, Mr. Logan was a trailblazer from a young age, eventually becoming Evanston’s first Black Chief of Police. He is also a founder of several community organizations, including Chessmen Club, Fellowship of African American Men (FAAM), and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers (NOBLE).
The following Gentlemen were honored as 2019 mentees: Michael Adams, Michael Burrell, Demetrius Campbell, Nathan Campbell, Christopher Cannon, Darrion Coleman, Carlos Connor, Demarion Logan, Camarius Morgan, Emmanuel Pierre-Louis, Jalen Roberts, Gabriel Rosen, Tristian Thomas and Celister “Tre” Wright.
Former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl presented the Quintessential Gentleman Award for excellence to Michael Burrell. Special recognition also went to Michael for academic excellence, Demetrius for dressing in accordance with the OGA dress code, Gabriel for most improved gentleman, Darrion for exemplary leadership, and Tre for serving as the first OGA class president.