A group of high school athletes and their coaches, law enforcement officers and Dolphins players came together at Hard Rock Stadium on Wednesday morning when the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality RISE put together its inaugural Florida high school roundtable.
A group of high school athletes and their coaches, law enforcement officers and Dolphins players came together at Hard Rock Stadium on Wednesday morning when the RISE put together its inaugural Florida high school roundtable.
The event took place in the Dolphins locker room, where tables were set up for groups to discuss issues such as community building and social justice.
"It's really valuable," said Dolphins tight end DeVante Parker, one of the players who participated. "We've said it all year the conversation should never end. We should constantly be talking as a community, as a society about what we can do to all get along better, to have a better understanding and appreciation for people that we don't know very well. A lot of the things we talked about today is just the disconnect in understanding officers in the community. How do we fix that disconnect? It takes time.
"A lot of times people hold back their real feelings and then things aren't getting accomplished. It takes honest, constant communication to have any relationship be what you want it to be. If we're not teaching that and we don't understand that, we have no chance. So when you look at the people that are taking the time in RISE to facilitate this, to really come out, have conversations, get an opportunity to see people in different lights, that's where the benefits come from. I think officers feel better, I think the student-athletes feel better, we (players) feel better when we just get to know people. We're never going to need to know everybody, but if me and you can develop a societal standard that says, hey, we're going to be understanding and we're going to see other people's point of view and we can all do it, that's how we all come together."
Other Dolphins players who participated were Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Drew Morgan. The young athletes were football and volleyball players from Hollywood Hills High, Cooper City High and Booker T. Washington High, and they were accompanied by their coaches. There were law enforcement officers from the North Miami Police Department, the Broward County Sheriff's Office and Miami-Dade Schools Police.
One of the participants was Broward County Sheriff's Office Major David Holmes, who was a fourth-round pick of the Dophins in the 1989 NFL draft.
"This is amazing," Holmes said. "This is a great opportunity for the Dolphins to help facilitate a better relationship between the community and law enforcement. Everyone loves the Dolphins. I think they've done a tremendous job creating great dialogue between the youth and law enforcement and I think we learned a lot about each other. Hopefully we can implement some changes to help things grow and build that relationship."
The various groups included at least one law enforcement officer and a Dolphins player, and each group was given a team name symbolizing the values that RISE promotes, such as respect, equality, empathy and understanding.
Moderating the discussion was RISE Regional Director Collin Williams, PhD.
"An event like this is extremely valuable if we are strategic about how we have these events," Williams said. "We make sure we build legitimate relationships where we have seen Kenny and Mike and Julius and Drew other folks are actually in the community, so when we have this event, it's not like, hey, we're coming together for this one day and this is it. For some, this should be the start of a conversation. For some that are here, it's like, oh my goodness, I met an officer for the first time and now have a positive interaction. I may have never had that before. It's extremely effective in that way."
The students selected to participate have completed the RISE season long leadership program.
"This is kind of what's going to get everything going, us re-establishing a sense of community, taking care of each other, being open with each other and honest with each other," said Cooper City football coach Brandon Walker. "This event today kind of culminated all that and hopefully we can use this platform moving forward to establish those relationships. I sat at a table with a lot of law enforcement officers and really some of the thoughts that they had about themselves is really what kind of took me aback. Again, they really have an honest opinion about what people in their community do as well and it's not all roses. They do make mistakes and they do need to be accountable. That was really kind of an enlightening thing for me today."
Said Stills: "I think we made a lot of progress today. Having some of the leaders here at the local high schools, young athletes, other mentors, coaches and then police officers from these communities, having these open honest conversations about how we can improve our communities and just hearing each other out and understanding each other. We made a lot of progress today. We figure we can take these kids here and the officers that were here and us as players to go out and talk about the conversations that we had today and hopefully that can spread and we can continue to bridge the gap between these kids and law enforcement."