The Los Angeles Rams and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) recently facilitated a discussion between youth and law enforcement officials to continue building relationships, understanding, acceptance, and cultural competency between two Los Angeles area high school football teams with a cross-section of races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
During the session, which took place at the Rams' practice facility in Thousand Oaks, Rams players and LAPD officers created a dialogue designed to break down barriers, identify perceptions and stereotypes of youth and law enforcement, and identify tangible actions to take to improve community and law enforcement relations.
"The workshop accomplished its goals of breaking down barriers and building relationships between the student-athletes, Rams players and law enforcement," said Dr. Collin Williams Jr., Rise Regional Director of Leadership & Education programs. "The humility, genuine candor and vulnerability of the LAPD officers made them relatable to both the student-athletes and the Rams players. The tone they set also helped create a safe space for expressing concerns and fears that can exist in communities."
Rams Director of Player Engagement, Jacques McClendon, believes the student-athletes and participating Rams players gained many insights from the officers. While the LAPD representatives shared their past experiences and some of the reasons they chose to join law enforcement, many of the participants came to the realization that officers may have been raised in similar circumstances.
"This session provided some eye-opening discussion that resulted in some useful takeaways for all groups involved," said McClendon. "I think the biggest takeaway was the players hearing the backgrounds of the police officers, who did a phenomenal job sharing experiences about their upbringing. What this showed our players and the high school student-athletes was that a handful of the officers were raised in the same situations as many of the participants in the room. It was key for the players to see and hear from them in a setting where everyone could be vulnerable and authentic with each other."
According to RISE's Vice President of Leadership and Education programs, Kim Miller, the session was equally impactful for the law enforcement officials. Student-athletes and Rams players shared their perceptions and previous encounters with authorities as the LAPD officers listened attentively and provided useful feedback.
The Los Angeles Rams are teaming up with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to pilot a season-long leadership and community building program featuring Morningside High School in Inglewood and Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village.
"One noticeable observation came at the end when participants were asked for a second time (the first at the start of the session), to stand along a spectrum based on their level of comfort, or lack thereof, with police," said Miller. "Seeing most of the participants shift closer to the comfortable end of the spectrum after just a 75-minute dialogue was an indicator of success. The session also seemed to be just as impactful for the adults as it was for the student-athletes. After the session, several Rams players shared their appreciation for being a part of the dialogue, while officers wanted to learn about additional opportunities to do similar work."
This season-long program includes monthly touchpoints for the participants. The program kicked off in September when Morningside players and coaches traveled to Westlake Village for a convening at Oaks Christian. The following day, Oaks Christian players and coaches visited Morningside in Inglewood for another session of interactive leadership programming developed by RISE. The following week, the participating players from each varsity team were invited to attend the Thursday Night Football showdown between the Rams and the Vikings. The student-athletes stood on the sideline during the performance of the National Anthem and had the opportunity to meet NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The vision for this partnership was to expose these two schools from different socioeconomic backgrounds to one another and to help them to see from a different lens," said McClendon. "We want to show them that the world is made up of people from different races, ethnicities, beliefs and financial circumstances…but these 'differences' do not mean that we can't coexist and be good citizens for our community at large."
The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress. RISE provides leadership and education programming designed to increase awareness, build skills and create safe spaces to have difficult conversations.
"It was an Honor and a privilege to partner with not only the Los Angeles Rams but the Ross Initiative in Sports Equality (RISE)," said LAPD Commander Gerald Woodyard. "It was certainly refreshing to have genuine conversations with young and impressionable young men from both Morningside High School and Oaks Christian High School. The facilitators from RISE were able to conjure understanding from all involved and I can attest that I came away inspired that the next generation of leaders were in that room of dialogue. Thank you for allowing the Los Angeles Police Department to participate in this needed community engagement and I am hopeful that with further dialogue, we can certainly bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community."
For more information about the Rams community outreach initiatives, please visit www.therams.com/community.