Oakland program bridges gap between Black community and law enforcement

In the heart of East Oakland, a modest building bearing the sign "Ok Program of Oakland" stands as a beacon of hope. Despite its unassuming appearance, this organization harbors profound intentions – to mend the rift between law enforcement and the Black community.

Oakland Police Department Sgt. Robert Smith, chief operating officer of the Ok Program, articulates the organization's mission with conviction: "Our goal is to prompt critical thinking skills, promote academic excellence, and reduce the high risk of incarceration and homicides among young African American males."

Operating on a dual approach, the Ok Program intertwines education with mentorship. Officers like Sherman Mitchel devote their time to guiding young minds, ensuring attendance, academic success, and steering clear of trouble. 

Education, however, is just one facet. Sessions encompass life skills, sparking meaningful discussions and nurturing social consciousness.

Joseph Cotton Jr., an Ok Program board member, emphasizes breaking down walls of mistrust. 

"By introducing them to police officers that look like them was very important for them to know that they’re doing the job because they look like the community and the people that’s in it and that they’re not always there to hurt you or incarcerate you," he says.

Probation officers like Ke’ere Lockhart bring a personal touch, drawing from their own experiences to connect with the youth. 

Volunteers, such as Jamil Blackwell, share their stories of overcoming adversity, serving as beacons of hope.

For participants like 14-year-old Hezekiah Smith, the Ok Program offers a sense of belonging. For others like 11-year-old Devinn Peters, it instills invaluable conflict-resolution skills.

Petri Byrd, chairman of the Ok Program's board, brings star power to the initiative. 

Recognized as the Bailiff from the "Judge Judy" show, Byrd attests to the program's transformative impact: "I have literally seen hundreds and hundreds of lives changed by the Ok Program."

With support from the Warriors Community Foundation, the Ok Program continues its vital work, committed to nurturing Oakland's youth and building a brighter future. 

Will Jackson, another Ok Program Board Member, underscores their broader responsibility: "We’re here to change the way they think and feel about life. Again, we have a responsibility to really help them to be the best version of themselves."

The impact extends beyond the participants. Recognizing the needs of families, the program extends support to provide basic living necessities.

In the eyes of the Ok Program's leaders, lies the promise of a community united, where bridges are built, and futures are forged, one life at a time.