While Prince George’s County has the reputation of being the wealthiest Black jurisdiction in the country, it also has issues with hostile police encounters, bullying and volatile family situations, affecting its young men and boys of colors.
Many youth activists and social workers have programs to deal with these ills, but a unique program recently took place at the Oakcrest Community Center in Capitol Heights on Friday. That night, about 50 students primarily in elementary school participated in a program called “Insomnia Battle Royale,” designed to be a character-building program.
“We have a program for girls here at Oakcrest every other year known as the ‘Pajama Jam,’ where the girls have activities overnight similar to a pajama party,” said Carlotta Wade, a Recreation Specialist III for the Central Area of the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “The girls would activities such as a fashion show and things like that. Then someone suggested ‘what about the boys?’ And then we created the Insomnia Battle Royale.”
The program encompasses workshops such as “Beyond Boundaries,” “Engaging in Effective Communication,” “What a Girl Wants” and “Entrepreneurship.” Activities that kept the boys awake included chess, cooking demonstrations, boxing, robotics and basketball.
In the gymnasium, the boys listened to several speakers, one of whom happened to be in their age group. James Collier, a student at Longfields Elementary School in Forestville, talked for seven minutes about being a bullying victim.
James told his peers that the types of bullying in school are physical, verbal, social and cyber. He said he has been the victim of all types of bullying except cyber and has made a commitment to fight it.
“You shouldn’t have to go to school and be bullied,” he said, encouraging his peers to sign anti-bullying pledge cards that sat on a nearby table.
Trevin Shepard, who works as a corporal for the Maryland-National Capital Park Police in the community services unit, addressed the participants during a segment on interactions with law enforcement officers, in which he instructed the boys how to deal with his colleagues.
“Simply follow the instructions of the officer, even if you don’t agree,” Shepard said. “Notify your parents afterward. Many people think that the police are a buddy-buddy system but it is not.”
Shepard told the boys they should file a complaint against an officer if they feel they have been wronged.
“We have a division of the police called Internal Affairs that investigates police misconduct,” he said.
Shepard said that police officers work at their jobs because they care about the communities they serve.
“I don’t know of any officer that wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I’m going to shoot somebody’,” he said. “We do this job because we care about the community. Every police officer is not your enemy.”
The Kappa Epsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Hyattsville/Landover chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi chaperoned the event. Jason Giambrone, an Alpha, talked to the boys about self-esteem and self-confidence.
“I feel good about myself and you should too,” Giambrone said. “There are people in this country that tell Black and brown people how ignorant, dumb and ugly we are, but don’t listen to that. I don’t need to get my self-esteem and self-worth from somebody else.”
Franklyn Malone, the president and CEO of 100 Fathers, Inc., led a workshop titled “Not My Son,” which had a parental focus. He told a moving story of “Johnny,” a boy who developed behavioral problems in school and society because of his parents’ divorce, his father’s abandoning him for a short time, his confusion about his father’s new girlfriend and the nasty things his mother would say about his father.
The story highlighted how many Black boys fall apart psychologically because no father exists in their life.
“Children need love and connection,” Malone said. “We need to figure how to put young men back together again.”
He said 79 percent of the men incarcerated in prison or jail never had a father in their lives. Malone encouraged the parents to ignore the myths about men that they should never cry and cannot be good parents.
Throughout the night and early morning, the boys had nearly unlimited access to snacks and drinks and received constant encouragement and reinforcement from the program participants.