By Joyce Duriga
CHICAGO (CNS) – Antwain Triplette has friends whose children are scared when they see the police and feel they have to run and hide.
However, his three children who attend Chicago’s Academy of St. Benedict the African have a different response.
“They try to give any police officer they see a high-five and I think that’s good,” Triplette told the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.
His three children have learned police officers are their friends because members of the Chicago Police Department’s 7th District have taken a special interest in the school, which is located in the often-violent Englewood neighborhood.
One officer in particular, Mike Cleary, regularly stops by the school to make sure the kids get in and out of school safely. Cleary has stopped by the school for so long that he’s formed a positive relationship with the students and staff. That carries over to the children’s response to other police they encounter.
“The kids love him. He’s been coming for years,” longtime principal Patricia Murphy said of Cleary.
When staff wanted to do something to thank Cleary and the other officers for what they do for the neighborhood the idea for a back-to-school barbecue formed.
Blessed Parents, Officers
The Aug. 8 event began with everyone gathered in a circle with their hands extended out in prayer over more than 20 officers. Deacon LeRoy Gill led a blessing for the officers and their families and afterward blessed the parents.
Originally the barbecue was to be held outside on the school lawn, but threats against police moved it to a less visible location. Chicago news media were reporting that several area gang leaders met the week before to order killings of officers in response to the fatal police shooting of Paul O’Neal in July.
As of Aug. 17, 2,607 shootings and 445 homicides had been reported in Chicago since Jan. 1, according to the Chicago Tribune.
On June 6, Terrance White, a 4-year-old who just graduated from pre-school at the academy was shot. After several surgeries the little boy is doing well. School officials regularly have to call the police for activity in the neighborhood, including shootings. Murphy told the Catholic New World that the officers are always quick to respond and she is grateful for that.
All was safe at the barbecue, however, and in the end some people ate and played in the gym while others ate at picnic tables tucked into an alcove outside between the school and gym. There were lots of high-fives shared between the students and the officers.
Grateful for Recognition
That the school and their families would reach out to the officers meant a lot to them.
“They also do a lot for the police department and we’re grateful for that and for them recognizing us and our hard work…. We really appreciate that,” said Lt. Mark Sedevic, who is head of watch operations for the 7th District, which includes the school.
Not every school is lucky enough to have a positive relationship with local police. That’s just one of the ways the Academy of St. Benedict the African is unique, Triplette said.
“I feel this is the best school in the community for my children to attend,” he said. “I know that they don’t allow what goes on in the public schools to go on here.”
The teachers and staff care about the children excelling in life, not just school.
“They care about their foundation and how they are being raised,” he said. “They don’t come to St. Benedict just to collect a paycheck.”
Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.