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Cincinnati police, nonprofits strive for better engagement with city's youth

Forever Kings
Posted at 8:00 PM, Apr 08, 2022

CINCINNATI — Part of the Cincinnati Police Department's strategy to calm gun violence involves partners who do not carry badges. One nonprofit is already going for broke to change things.

At the Bond Hill-based Forever Kings, a training program for young men of color, members write messages to themselves that are posted on walls. It is done to build up what founder Jordan Bankston sees torn down for too many. Two-thirds of children in juvenile detention in 2021 were Black or Hispanic.

"No matter what comes against you, you have to keep going," Bankston said. "If nobody tells you I'm proud of you we're proud of you. We support you."

One year after Hamilton County set a record with 13 teenagers charged with murder, Cincinnati police said they worry about current trends. In 2022, there have been 22 homicides. Four involve teens. Ten of the homicides are unsolved, perhaps the biggest issue to public safety 20-year CPD veteran Kisha Williams sees on patrols in District One.

"We can go to any kind of stabbing or shooting or anything like that and they don't want to help you," she said. "Even though there are several witnesses there (few speak up) because they don't trust us."

It is why she and fellow officer Chip Todd work Camp Joy every summer. Seven to 10 CPD officers spend a week bonding and building trust with youth through fun activities at the camp.

"If I can convince you that it's okay to conquer your fear of heights, then you can feel comfortable enough to come to me and conquer that fear of taking a step forward and saying, 'Hey I don't know who was the shooter, but I can tell you this person knows,'" Todd said.

Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge's plan to calm violence involves getting more children into camps of similar nature. The City of Cincinnati offers programs for trauma victims and people who lost loved ones to homicide. Still, the department is looking for private citizens to step up too.

"It's just hard for us in life in general," said Kevin Jordan, a Forever Kings member. "So just being able to come here in a safe space and talk about your problems, talk about school, sports (and) all types of stuff. It's just cool."

Jordan is one of the first Forever Kings members. Children from fourth to 12th grade learn everything from financial planning to cooking and coping skills. Founded as the COVID-19 pandemic began, no members have ever quit and their graduation rate is 100%.

"If you are waiting until a young man is in 10th, 11th, 12th grade to say what do you want to do with your life, that doesn't work," Jordan said. "So, we start introducing our young men to options."

That is exactly what CPD hopes to find more.

"Our PIVOT project (in District One) is all about partnerships," Todd said. "If we can get more facets, more things partnering together to get the one common goal, I'm all for it."

CPD's Camp Joy is enrolling children. Forever Kings is hosting a fundraiser next Thursday. The program is $50,000 short of financial goals to pay for programming for the rest of the fiscal year.

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