One of Marcus Ballance’s cousins is in prison for shooting another man. Another was recently shot after serving a prison term of his own.
Ballance, a 12-year-old who attends Margaret McFarland Middle School, lives with his mom, her boyfriend and a baby sister on the city’s east side. He’s been exposed to crime and drugs his entire life.
Some would say that means Ballance has a good chance of ending up either a victim of homicide or in prison.
But Indianapolis Police Department Sgt. Timothy Knight hopes a new mentoring program aided by local businesses will keep Ballance from becoming another grim statistic.
The OK Program–short for Our Kids-focuses on reducing the high rates of incarceration and homicide among black men. It was launched in California in 1990 by a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy with the help of a philanthropist there.
“I saw who we were locking up on a daily basis, who was affected by homicide the most, and it was African-American males,” founder Donald Northcross said. “Seemed we’d come to accept that was how it was.”
The founders expanded the program to Indianapolis in January and it quickly found a fan in philanthropist Suzanne Fehsenfeld, founder of Globe Foundation, an Indianapolis not-for-profit that develops educational opportunities for young people.
Globe is working to find businesses and universities to provide sponsorship, mentoring and tutoring.
In addition to weekly study groups, participants attend Saturday sessions where they discuss race-related issues, learn behavior and life skills and listen to adults talk about how they became successful.
And OK already has help from local businesses that donate event tickets, video games and other prizes for boys meeting certain goals. The businesses also are funding activities and providing volunteers for the 12- to 18-year-olds.
Bill Mays, president of locally based Mays Chemical Co., has been a speaker and a financial contributor.
“Several OK people came to me and said they need to have lunches for these kids on Saturdays,” Mays said.
So he contacted several caterers, including Bar-B-Q Heaven Inc. and C&R Catering Etc. Inc. He pays for the food and the caterers donate their time.
Mays also arranged for Kings Island amusement park to reduce admission for a group outing, and he offset the cost of transportation, which was provided by Indianapolis-based The Great Transportation Enterprise. Urban station WTLC-FM 106.7 promoted the outing.
The program works with about 150 boys at Arlington High School and its two feeder middle schools, McFarland and John Marshall. Boys who join the program are paired with one of three IPD police officers, including Knight.
All three are former homicide detectives who have chosen to be assigned to the program full time, giving up the overtime pay they earned as detectives but still working as many as 14 or 15 hours a day.
The officers are given parental consent to pull grades, check disciplinary records, deal with teachers and appear in court on behalf of the boys if they get in trouble. They also attend sporting events and school activities.
In return, the boys sign a contract agreeing to be on time for class, maintain a C+ average, turn in 90 percent of class work and exhibit excellent citizenship.
Of the 47 John Marshall kids in the program, 27 improved their grade-point averages during the second half of the last academic school year, said Jackie Greenwood, who monitors the program for the schools.
“We don’t recognize how important it is to start these kids off young,” Mays said. “If we don’t do something with these kids at this age, we’re going to see a lot of them in jail down the road.”
From left, Marcus Ballance and Thomas Fleming have been paired with Indianapolis Police Sgt. Timothy Knight and Officer Kendale Adams.