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'I was always insecure about police': Program changing minds of kids used to crime

"The way we're living, we don’t know what’s gonna happen next," said a 12-year-old.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kids are so used to crime in one Charlotte apartment complex, witnessing a deadly shooting doesn’t even shock them.

But the property manager at Timber Ridge Apartments wanted more for the kids, so she teamed up with the library and the police this summer to try to change lives.

"The way we're living, we don’t know what’s gonna happen next," said 12-year-old Masyia Smith. "We see a lot of shootouts a lot of drugs and dangerous stuff were living in."

Her neighbor, 13-year-old Larry Burton, agreed. 

"One of them pulled up inside parking lot while we were playing basketball and they just started shooting," Burton said.

The teens both live in Charlotte’s Timber Ridge apartments where two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers were killed twelve years ago.

Things haven’t gotten much better in the years since. But the Timber Ridge property manager wants something different for these kids.

"The kids here are valuable we have some really intelligent kids who want to live outside of poverty be something other than a drug dealer," said Curtisha Brooks.

So at the start of summer, she reached out to librarian Melanie Murdock at nearby Hickory Grove library who created a summer program for the kids.

"I am overwhelmed with gratitude; I’ve never seen it happen so fast," Brooks said.

All summer long, three days a week, Cedric Dean, who spent 22 years in prison and is now focused on keeping kids from going down the road he did, has loaded the kids in his company van and brought them to the library for the program.

"Fourteen of the fifteen kids when we first started was fighting every week with each other or other people in the area," Dean said.

Things slowly started to change after a series of reading groups, field trips, and career discussions with adults in the community.

They also met regularly with two CMPD officers, both have a long history at Timber Ridge. One was actually first on the scene the night the two officers were gunned down.

Burton didn’t like police officers before this summer. 

"I was always insecure about police because I watch videos on YouTube about police brutality," he said.

However, Burton's changed his mind.

"I feel like I can call them for any type of help I need. Mr. Justin said he'd take a bullet for me," he said.

"I mean, it gives you goosebumps. You’re not gonna change every opinion but you’re reaching a few," Officer Jason Humphreys said.

A few weeks ago, there was a shooting at Timber Ridge, and three people from the complex were charged in the murder.

"Coming into the program that Monday after that had happened, we thought, man these kids, they're gonna be affected. And I'd say the saddest part was to them it was just another night," Humphrey said.

But the kids felt comfortable talking to the officers.

"It’s like ever since I came, I’ve changed. My behavior-wise and I had anger issues but it all went away," said Burton.

"I want to thank everybody that helped me in this program because without them I wouldn’t be the way I am now," Smith added.

This program means so much to these kids. One kid missed the van one day and walked more than a mile to the library just to be a part of it. 

That’s why the library said they're going to keep this going throughout the school year.

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