[Author Arieale Munson is a resident of North Memphis and a High Ground News Community Correspondent. Correspondents are everyday people trained in the basics of neighborhood-based reporting who have deep roots to the communities they cover. This is her first published story with High Ground News.]
Memphis Shelby PAL is a nonprofit organization that provides athletic, educational, and recreational programs for youth throughout Shelby, Tipton, and DeSoto counties.
It pairs youth ages five to 18 with city and county law enforcement officers who serve as mentors and coaches. Their hope is to foster more positive relationships and promote trust and understanding that benefit the youth, law enforcement, and the larger community.
Their sports programs include football, cheerleading, basketball, baseball and softball, track and field, and boxing.
The organization is devoted to ensuring youth reach their fullest potential and uses i programs to target the most critical times when kids are most likely to stray into bad behavior—after-school and in the summer months. They believe that every child has unique gifts that can be activated when given the proper tools and guidance.
“I have been a [Memphis Shelby PAL] kid since I was five with the Youth Academy of Dreams, and I can say being a part of this program has taught me a lot about being a team player and always going after what I want, cause I have everything in me to succeed,” said 11-year-old Alyssa Gore.
The organization’s full name is the Sheriff’s & Police Activities League of Memphis & Shelby County. It served 38 neighborhoods in 2020.
“PAL programs run on the conviction that young people — if they are reached early enough — can develop positive attitudes towards law enforcement and the laws that they enforce daily,” said Craig Little, Memphis Shelby PAL executive director.
Craig Little, founder of the Sheriff’s & Police Activities League of Memphis & Shelby County, poses with PAL cheerleaders. (Submitted)
Little is a former law enforcement officer who has been protecting and serving the North Memphis community for over 20 years. He is also the founder of Memphis Bear Inc. Memphis, which is a sports organization centered in the Frayser community.
“Reduction in crime in the community would create a desirable neighborhood where people are not afraid of coming out of their homes, [where they are] walking and participating in neighborhood events,” said Little.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Shelby County, local juvenile violence peaks in the after-school hours of 3-9 p.m. on school days and between the
hours of 2-11 p.m. on non-school days. It also states that targeting those hours holds the greatest potential to reduce a community’s juvenile crime rate.
“Currently, there are few positive alternatives for inner-city youth to engage in since the closing or elimination of attractions such as local amusement parks, community centers and other recreational facilities. It is the mission of Memphis PAL to fill that gap,” said Little.
“It is our hope that they can not only deter our youth from the many negative influences in their neighborhoods but provide the tools that will redirect and refocus their energies,” he continued.
The program uses various metrics to measure its success levels. In 2020, PAL served 1,814 youth participants. In an internal survey, 95% of those participants said that Memphis Shelby PAL has made a positive impact in the community.
MPD Officer Antonio Batts said he was inspired to join Memphis Shelby PAL because it gives the community a chance to see police officers in a different light.
In 2020, PAL had 25 participating Law Enforcement Liaisons like Batts.
“As PAL officers, we get a chance to work with kids, parents, and schools to bridge the gap. Most kids only see cops locking people up. They need to see us through programs like PAL to help change that. I want every child to know they have a chance to be successful. I want kids to respect themselves and to set reasonable goals for themselves,” said Batts.
PAL also offers activities that get their youths’ parents involved, such as orientations and welcome meetings, Team Moms and Team Dads camp, Mom’s Flag Game, Chat-n-Chew, Game Shout-Outs, and Action Shots. They can also volunteer as part of Team Mom and Team Dad.
The global pandemic has suspended many programs, but Memphis Shelby PAL has been creative in keeping local youth engaged.
To make sure students are staying on track academically, they’ve moved their Mentoring Power Hour program Zoom, and are helping students with assignments via Class Dojo.
They’ve also added social media activities such as Mission Moment Mondays—where the youth engaged with the Little live on Instagram—TikTok Tuesday, Work-It Wednesday, Team-Up Thursday, and Fun Friday with DJs playing music on Facebook LIVE.
To find out more about Memphis PAL, visit their Facebook page here
or visit their website at https://www.memphisshelbypal.org.
[Disclosure: Author Arieale Munson was a founding member of Memphis Shelby PALS.]