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The event ended with minority youth and parents hugging and praying with a veteran white officer

Detective James Rooney

Amityville, NY (BlackNews.com) — On Tuesday, July 26, 2016, Freedom Chapel in Amityville, New York brought together over 175 girls and boys ages 8-17 and staff at their Hoop Challenge basketball camp. The majority of the participants were African American. Professor James Rooney (who is white) of Farmingdale State College was invited as one of their motivational speakers. Prof. Rooney is also a detective and decorated member of the Suffolk County Police Department. At a time when many communities in America are reeling from tense, hostile and at times deadly encounters between Black youth and police, Freedom Chapel through their Teen Challenge program, took a very public and necessary step to bring together police and Black youth with Farmingdale State Colleges First Responder program.

The Riot which erupted in Milwaukee on Sat. Aug 13, after the fatal shooting of another Black man is the most recent incident reflecting the strained relationship. The First Responder program is designed to re-introduce, reconcile and build healthier relationships between minority youth and law enforcement. Farmingdales program, which involves multiple constructive activities which are jointly participated in by both minority youth and first responders, is a model for colleges and other communities to help build bridges between minority communities and law enforcement. Pastor Jimmy Jack of Freedom Chapel, stated, “The First Responders program is the vision of Professor Bentley Whitfield with Farmingdale State College. When Farmingdale approached us to participate I embraced his vision and realized how vital this is and wanted to be a part of this to bring unity into our community. They had the program; we had the venue, the people and the Lord.”

Freedom Chapels Teen Challenge initiative has operated Hoop Challenge summer basketball camps in Amityville for 18 years. Each year it draws well over a hundred youth for a week long camp. Teens participate in basketball training and discipline to instill character development, life skills, self-improvement and faith in God. Every camper receives a large trophy and many receive additional awards and contest trophies.

The Tuesday First Responders event began with Pastor Jack introducing Detective Rooney (also a retired Marine Colonel) after participants had eaten lunch. Detective Rooney was introduced as a police officer who cares, as well as a professor. Rooney, who sports an 1890s handlebar mustache, spoke about his journey from being a young person to building his career as a police officer and Marine. More importantly, Officer Rooneys care for the future, well-being and safety of the young people and the community resonated not only with the young people but the entire Teen Challenge staff. A question and answer period followed Detective Rooneys talk. Numerous serious questions were asked and the Q and A period concluded with several of the youngsters asking Detective Rooney how long it took to grow his signature moustache. One young man stood and asked, Could you be our president? Even more touching, the event ended with scores of teens giving Officer Rooney a big group hug and praying for him.

Pastor Jack said, This is just the beginning of our involvement with Farmingdales First Responder program. First Responders has the potential to help develop a new healthy dynamic between the police and our community. This is big. His words were prophetic. Three days later on a hot Friday evening, Hoop Challenge held their closing Rock the Block Hoop Challenge Award Ceremony. On this evening where trophies and awards were distributed to all campers, Detective Rooney spoke to nearly 400 people including community leaders. This talk also ended with a very emotional group hug between a lone police officer, hundreds of minority youth and their parents. Pastor Jacks message that night was The comeback kid – Where God can take any failure, and turn it to victory and every setback is a setup for a miracle come back.

Farmingdales First Responder program was funded by the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC).


Photo Caption: Detective James Rooney hugged by youth after delivering a powerful talk on building better relationships between police and Black youth.


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