This week, the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation honors Chicago Police Sergeant Jermaine Harris who developed a baseball program for youth in his community with the goal to bridge the gap between the police and the community.
About a year ago, as summer was winding down, Sgt Harris, who has coached Little League in Garfield Park for the last 10 years, realized that the grant that paid for the police youth programs was set to expire. Instead of shutting down the program, he realized the benefits of team sports and sought to expand it, not just into his district, but to other police districts that face the same economic hardships and street violence. Sgt Harris teamed up with Stephanie Marquardt, the Executive Director of City of Refuge Chicago, a non-profit whose mission is “to bring light, hope and transformation to individuals and families,” to work to keep the youth programs going.
Sgt Harris talked about the advantages of playing baseball and the positive life skills that can be passed along to the kids. The City of Refuge took the lead on the necessary paperwork, obtaining equipment, training coaches and meeting other requirements for organizing the teams under the Westside Police and Youth Sports Conference. Over the winter Sgt. Harris worked with City of Refuge Chicago to get other community groups on board including schools and churches.
Sgt Harris coordinated with his fellow Sergeants and Officers from surrounding districts including the 10th, 11th, and 25th districts to bring baseball to their communities too. Today, nearly 500 kids are playing baseball in six parks: Columbus, Moore, Garfield, Kells, Franklin and La Follett.
In total, the groups raised more than $15,000, asked companies to donate equipment and signed up volunteers from police stations, churches and local organizations. The 20 teams played every Saturday this last season and they will continue it in the fall with soccer and basketball.
Sgt Harris realizes that the job of a police officer is a tough one, and while the violence he sees is hard for an adult to deal with sometimes, when a child sees or experiences violence, it can change them forever. His hope is that by creating these leagues, he is building a relationship with these kids that will last a lifetime and show these kids a positive path that will lead to a safer Chicago.
We realize that there are many more officers on the streets that are doing things just like Sgt Harris. They are showing concern and caring for the elderly, mentoring the youth by being a positive influence in their lives, and making a difference. This month, we are proud to honor Sgt. Harris as our Officer of the Month.