“I wasn’t a typical high school,” says Jimmy James, a quiet young man whose life changed by joining Houston Police Department’s Youth Police Advisory Council (YPAC).
“When I met Jimmy, he couldn’t open his mouth. Now he won’t shut it!” jokes his mentor Rhonda Collins Byrd.
Recognizing that teens are overlooked, the chief of police convened YPAC where participants conduct service projects, facilitate Teen Court, and train peers and adults on dating violence and suicide prevention. The program has increased understanding and dialogue between HPD and area youth.
Leadership programs foster a sense of community and civic responsibility. This came to life for Jimmy as a juror on the teen court that helped an “in-risk” peer.
“Being ‘at-risk’ is something [a young person] can come back from. It’s harder when you’re already ‘in’ it,” Jimmy explains. Jimmy and others supported the teen individually and as a team beyond her sentencing. The results were profound. Opportunities like this come from “connecting organically not by force,” says Collins-Byrd.
Jimmy grew more passionate about dating violence after the loss of a friend. “It just broke my heart,” he recalls. YPAC provided a platform to discuss the issue and later garnered support to host awareness events at school.
Supportive leadership programs offer young people a creative space to practice life skills; to build relationships by engendering trust; and to develop confidence while advocating for important issues.
Jimmy studies policy and public affairs at Texas Southern University and maintains his connection YPAC by mentoring youth. An inspiring founding member of TCFV’s Youth Advisory Board, he also serves on the National Love Is Respect Youth Advisory board.
“Let them be who they are, and allow them to voice their opinions,” is his best advice for adults supporting youth leaders.