Kids with cameras, Detroit police mentors capture hope
Here is Deonte Sparks, age 9, with a cockeyed grin and the eyes of a wise man, back from a journey photographing his dreams for the city.
His mentor is a 44-year-old Detroit police officer, Sgt. Dennis Perkins, the father of a 4-year-old who volunteered to be with Deonte on a Saturday. They were strangers to each other in the morning.
“We like a lot of the same things,” Deonte, a third-grader, says. The color blue. Basketball. And math.
They first joined up in late September, along with 14 other police officers and Detroit children, to forge bonds as they encountered Detroit together. It was an elaborate pairing, coordinated with the help of Detroit PAL, and led by photojournalist Linda Solomon, who has spent 10 years helping children at risk create “Pictures of Hope” throughout the country.
But this idea — connecting kids and cops, even a few, for a few hours — seemed especially relevant now, in the aftermath of shootings and anger in Ferguson and Baltimore, and other places around the country.
A camera, a child, a police officer and an assignment to capture in pictures your hopes and dreams.
Each child was given a digital camera, instructions on how to shoot with flair and the opportunity to explore Belle Isle, the Dequindre Cut, Grand Circus Park and other sites with camera and police officer mentor in tow. The cameras were theirs to keep.
“It’s such an important time to do something like this,” says Solomon, whose glamorous presence — cascade of blond hair, cashmere poncho, over-the-knee boots — somehow proves more asset than liability, no matter where she is. In this case, she was at Tuesday’s PAL reception for the kids, the officers and the launch of a campaign to support 1,000 young people in Detroit PAL after-school sports programs (www.crowdrise.com/onethousandkidchallenge).
When Sgt. Perkins asked Deonte about his hopes for the city, Deonte said: “I want there to be no more homeless people.” He wanted, especially, to photograph the city’s blight and decay, because ending that was his wish, too.
Maggie Eggebrecht, a 10-year-old who wants to see more art in the city, grinned when she saw her mentor, Officer T. Harris-Hardy.
In the end, Solomon edited the photographs, selecting one from each child for a set of 15 postcards, printed by Avanti Cards, available through Detroit PAL (www.detroitpal.org).
Their hopes turned out to be our hopes: For a clean city, a safer city, for every child to have “the same opportunities.” Seth H. took a photograph of the PeopleMover car proclaiming Detroit “a great comeback city” and wished, nostalgically, for “the days of yesteryear.”
He was referring to those olden days Detroiters love, the ones with Vernor’s and Hudson’s and hot fudge sundaes and everybody getting along. Those days likely sound at least somewhat more perfect than they actually were.
Police Chief James Craig, who was scheduled to serve as a mentor but wound up with a last-minute conflict, pronounced himself a whole-hearted supporter of children with cameras and Detroit PAL. “I know it works,” he said.
You could not really argue with the feeling in the reception room. Deonte’s concern about homelessness nudged Sgt. Perkins’ memory: “I remembered when I asked my mother if we could let a homeless man sleep in our basement,” he said. The policeman and the boy will likely always remember each other. “He gave his heart,” said Perkins.