ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO - Last month, 15 students from the Ferguson-Florissant, Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts were treated to an all-expense paid trip to Atlanta. Wednesday night (Oct. 10), the students, their families, and others came together for a reception to celebrate the experience.
The selected students were awarded the opportunity as part of the Humanity in the Middle program through Beyond Housing and the North County Police Cooperative which aims to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.
Charlin Hughes, 24/1 Community Resource Specialist with Beyond Housing, said the idea for the program developed as tensions between police and the public across the country began to rise. She enjoyed watching the students and officers connect with each other on a human level.
"We want to show them that they're our future, and somebody helped us along the way, and so we're going to give back and help them along the way," said Capt. Clay Farmer with the cooperative who also served as a mentor on the trip.
The group traveled to several historical sites, as well as Spelman and Morehouse colleges during the trip which took place Sept. 13-17.
"The trip to Atlanta, for an African-American male like myself, was very profound and very eye-opening," said Riverview Gardens High School student Jayden Keys. "I learned a lot that I didn't learn before and it really made me think about what options I had out there."
Students had to write an essay and collect three letters of reference to be considered. The finalists were selected by teachers and superintendents.
"It was a great bonding experience because I met new people and got to make new friendships and got closer with some of the adults here and got to know them more," said Tyrha Gales, a student at Normandy High School.
The cost to send each student on the trip is about $700. The program is supported by sponsorship from the community and corporations.
"It's really important to support this program because there are so many children who don't have the resources and the funds to really get out of St. Louis and explore different encounters," said Dr. Kendra Holmes, Chief Operating Officer of Affinia Healthcare. Affinia is a sponsor of the program and Holmes serves as a mentor.
This is the second year for the trip. Last year the group traveled to Washington D.C. Next year, they plan to travel to Alabama.