There we were, jammed inside a large conference room at The Corner, the Tiger Stadium site kicking around story ideas and projects for the future during the Detroit Police Athletic Leagues (Detroit PAL) Fresh Nation classes.
Before the pandemic, my Saturday mornings were a mission of joy. WWJ reporter Stephanie Davis and I gave tips on broadcasting and sports writing to about a dozen Metro Detroit youth. The groups ranged from sixth to 12th graders eager to learn and even educate an old dog like me.
It became my most rewarding two hours of the week.
I always tell them I do not want to tell them what to write. But I want to provide structure for the group to communicate in a refreshing way. When we first began, kids wrote and spoke with a timidity that drove this old man nuts. By nature, they were fun and aggressive and engaging kids who were unafraid of the world.
Yet when they sat in front of a computer or a microphone, they became different human beings. One of my catchphrases became “Get gangsta with it.”
In other words, let’s be more aggressive. Let your true personality fly from the keyboard.
Do not be afraid.
If your work gets too crazy, we can fix it later.
So on this day, we got gangsta. The next thing I knew, we were exchanging ideas in Italian, Russian, and Spanish. And of course English. It proved to be an eye-opening day for me. I nearly drowned that day in ideas filled with diversity, fresh thoughts, and joy.
It hit me that day that the Detroit Police Athletic League is more than Saturday morning football and baseball games.
Detroit PAL is more than upcoming athletes competing and learning the game.
There are minds with fresh thoughts. There are children with wonderful minds and visions.
“We are more than just sports,” Detroit PAL CEO Robert Jamerson told the Detroit Free Press. “We are trying to help our kids find their greatness. And in order to do that, we have to be able to expose them to other things in a sustainable way.”
And I always assumed PAL only drew from Detroit.
My students were also from Walled Lake, Waterford, Harper Woods, Monroe, and River Rouge. My goal is for these kids to grow up and share their ideas with editors from the Detroit News and Free Press, with assignment editors at WWJ, 97.1 FM, WJR, and anywhere else their heart’s desire.
Some of our kids are beginning to flee the coop, and no one is happier about that than me.
Victor Jackson is a freshman at Wayne State University, and Allison Hayes, a freshman at Schoolcraft College. Victor might work Friday nights on the prep crew at the Free Press this fall. Allison is a polished speaker who will light up our area one day.
For the past year, there has been a void in my life.
We’ve met virtually, and it’s just not the same. We’ve not gotten gangsta with it while sitting in front of computer screens. Next Saturday, we are back together again at The Corner. I can’t wait to get gangsta with it again as we talk about the ABCs of podcasting.
A few years ago, Jamerson invited me to snoop around an event at Northwestern High School. I said I have to be a part of this after meeting some of the students interested in communications. A few days later, I was part of the Fresh Nation program headed up by Delvis Nixon.
In a few weeks, the class will conclude with a field trip to the Woodward Sports Network, where students will piece together their final podcasts and share them with the world.
I often make fun of the youngsters at Woodward Sports, but I admire that they want to reach out and touch the community. When I asked if they could help out with the PAL kids, they said “yes” quickly. I didn’t even get to finish the sentence.
Detroit PAL made the news last week by securing $15 million in state funding to run programs like Fresh Nation, basketball, football, cheerleading, and dancing. I’m happy to announce that WSN will also be part of the process.
It should be a good marriage. Let’s get gangsta with it.