MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade police joined forces Monday with members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence in order to promote a positive dialogue between officers and some of the county’s at-risk youth.

“It helped me stay out of trouble at school,” said 16-year-old Keenan Clarke. “I was fighting and stuff, I was doing a lot of stuff in sixth grade.”

It was in the sixth grade when he first became one of the 5000Role Models for Excellence. It was an early intervention.

“I ain’t (sic) been in trouble since the sixth grade,” he said. “They get to help you now and they talk to you a lot,” he said.

For many of the young men and boys, Monday’s conference was a way to have a conversation with law enforcement about changing perceptions and outcomes.

“Those negative encounters that one of them or a few of them have had in the past, we want to try to turn that around,” said Miami police Commander Freddie Cruz.

Officers from around the county engaged kids in the program to promote better interactions and talk consequences.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson started 5000 Role Models for Excellence 30 years ago, changing the trajectory for a generation of boys and men of color who they target in middle school. Wilson said Monday’s conference also focused on teaching these students what to do when they encounter a cop.

“When you’re stopped by the police freeze, don’t move, that’s number one,” she said.

“It’s not just an education for students, it’s about changing stereotypes for these officers too,” she added. “That they’re bad or carry knives or are violent, they begin to understand that these are boys just like their sons.”

For another young role model, it’s another day in a program that’s meant seeing achievement in people who look like him.

“For young men like me, and for young men everywhere that don’t feel like they can succeed on their own, I think that the 5000 Role Models gives them that feeling, that they’re not alone, that success is an option and all you need is some help,” said Abraham Manigo.

Rielle Creighton

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