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Photos: Ohio LEOs meet with local youth at Cleveland Browns Stadium to strengthen community ties

After a panel discussion on criminal justice, sports and pursuing dreams, students were given the opportunity to talk with officers in small groups

By Olivia Mitchell

CLEVELAND — The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission collaborated with the CL3 Alliance to host the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit series Tuesday at Cleveland Browns Stadium to discuss strengthening relationships between local youth and law enforcement.

The summit was attended by students from Cleveland schools, deputies from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, police chiefs from suburban departments, and representatives from city sports teams.

The CL3 Alliance includes the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Guardians.

Members of a panel discussed the importance of police and community engagement. One of them, Shaker Heights Police Chief Wayne Hudson, said after he took over his department, he tripled the community engagement budget.

“[We at the Shaker Heights Police Department] have $100,000 set aside for community engagement outreach,” Hudson said. “In the summer, officers are required to get out of their vehicles and walk through Thornton Park and business areas.”

Additionally, the department provides officers with sports equipment like footballs and basketballs and encourages them to play with children.

“I am driven to make sure our youth has an opportunity and a voice,” Hudson said.

Other members on the panel included Browns Chief Communications Officer Peter John-Baptiste and Cavaliers Senior Manager of Youth Operations Jessica Davis.

With the Browns and its vaunted defense in the playoffs this year, John-Baptiste told the crowd how his dream is for the city to win the Super Bowl, but he doesn’t want it to end there.

“When I think about hopes and dreams, it’s about equality, equity, and ways for everyone in the community to have growth and development,” John-Baptiste said.

The panel went into detail on how sporting events bring people together.

“Sports teaches so many life lessons,” Davis said. “Without sports, you miss the ability to do other things like being social, working out, and building healthy lifestyle habits.”

John-Baptiste, who has been with the Browns for 10 seasons, told the students that the team’s players may look or talk differently and come from different places, but they work together for a common goal.

“Sports is emotion, sports is passion,” John-Baptiste said. “When you look around our locker room, you see players from different walks of life that come together for a common purpose, to win and uplift each other. Sports bring people together whether you’re playing or cheering.”

Players on the Browns often visit schools and participate in community events, John-Baptiste said, and the players understand the platform they have, and their fans look up to them.

Hudson emphasized to the crowd how important it is to have an education, and said playing professional sports is a longshot, so if that is their dream, they should have a backup plan.

Hudson reflected on his own experiences growing up to offer motivation. He told the students how he ended up in the military because he could not find a job, not even at Red Lobster to wash dishes.

“I was not the best student growing up, and my desk was next to the teacher’s desk,” Hudson said. “I didn’t come from the best neighborhood, but I never gave up and my parents never gave up. I stand here as a living testimony that you can achieve your dreams. Don’t let anyone steal your passion. Go for your dreams.”

The young people at the summit were reluctant to ask the panel questions about the relationships between community and police, but that changed after the students were broken into groups with law enforcement officers to address topics, such as how to develop and strengthen bonds within the community. The youngsters were able to ask police about mental health, racial equity and more.

In their groups, the students warmed up to the police. They could be heard telling officers about their own interactions with law enforcement and asking them personal questions about their jobs. Some students were seen teaching a sheriff’s deputy a dance.

The sports summit follows another year of deadly violence in Cleveland. By the end of December, the Cleveland Division of Police were investigating at least 165 homicides. Also, 41 teens have faced murder charges in 30 deaths, according to the office of the Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

Violence in Cleveland and the surrounding areas became so overwhelming by the start of last summer that top officials reached out to Gov. Mike DeWine for assistance. The governor shelled out money for troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and other state agencies to move into Cleveland and target crime.

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