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Why won't NL ever consult people who know what they're talking about?

Predictably, the recent death of 17-year-old Ronde Ford has triggered the Pavlovian response from the community. Well-meaning people often gather in the wake of tragedy and agree that something needs to be done, although the residual effects are more rhetorical than practical.

But I've often wondered: How come nobody ever seeks input from the people on the front lines who work with the kids and know them the best?

That's why I met earlier this week with Dom Griffin, a New London High grad, class of 2008, a young man I knew from sports who has become a beacon to every kid in this city, regardless of skin color.

In his younger days, Griffin likely fulfilled a starting lineup of negative stereotypes associated with New London kids. He finally found his way and graduated from Springfield College with a degree in Human Services. Now for the most relevant part: He came home to work with kids at High Roads, the alternative middle/high school on Garvin Street.

Dom Griffin has walked the metaphorical mile. He knows the rhythms of this city. He knows the kids. What they encounter. Their challenges. Their issues. Their stories.

And yet nobody ever asks him how to fix any of this.

So I did.

"The kids need to know that people in the community care," Griffin said. "One thing about working in education, I've learned that those few hours when they're at school, sometimes it's the only place where they'll eat. At school, they are going to be held accountable. People are going to care and listen to them. Their voice is going to matter."

Caring and listening breaks corrosive silence, of which author Brene Brown writes, "Sometimes, the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories — stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging."

Step No. 1, per Dom Griffin: Break the silence.

"People in the community need to do their part. You don't need to be a mentor to make an impact. Just care about them. Don't wait for a tragedy to reach out," Griffin said. "If you don't get the know the youth in your city, it's going to be easy to write them off through generalizations."

Griffin used Ford, whom he mentored, as an example: "You saw what people said. He's in a gang, in trouble all the time. But is it OK for him to lose his life like that? He's still a kid. People make mistakes every day. Some people know about them, some people don't. Ronde was a kid. He still had a chance, man. He never got to find his purpose."

Among the emblematic melodramas ongoing in the city now is whether a School Resource Officer belongs at the high school. Again, Griffin's opinion here is most relevant, as a young, African American educator born and raised here.

"If it's the right person, having an SRO is not an issue," Griffin said. "Officer (Anthony) Nolan was the SRO when I was at the high school. He was great. But he was known in the community for his work. He had relationships with the kids.

"He had youth organization programs that were the closest thing to a community center. Kids could play basketball, video games, eat and be in a safe environment. Officer Nolan had the respect. He still does. So if you have the right person there, I wouldn't be against it. But if you have somebody who's not familiar with the type of kids you're dealing with and all they know is negative stereotypes about New London, it won't work."

It's probably not going to work. The police and Board of Education are at an impasse, sniveling over such paramount issues as where the cruiser should be parked and what the SRO should wear in the building. It's the most New London thing ever: shout damnation at one another, solve nothing and sustain the art of obstruction over compromise.

And yet while they're engrossed in a hissing contest, there's already a man at the high school who reaches kids at levels beyond what any SRO could accomplish. Chuck Potter, the school's Behavioral Specialist, is New London High's Kid Whisperer.

"He always has the best relationships with the kids," Griffin said.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Potter, like Griffin, is rarely consulted about the more comprehensive issues facing the kids. Straight up: Potter is among the important people in that building. In lieu of an SRO, would it be too much to ask for the police to establish consistent contact with Potter — to compare notes about happenings in the school and city, perhaps identifying problems before another tragedy happens?

Is that too much to ask?

"It's a good idea," Griffin said. "There has to be a bridge."

Dom Griffin and Chuck Potter are the bridge builders. And so are the others like them in this city who roll up their sleeves every day. Their input is needed far more than political bromides. So if this city is truly serious about helping the kids, it can start with consulting the people who actually know what they're talking about.

"Working in this environment, you learn a different type of patience," Griffin said. "Until you are on the front lines you're really not going to understand it. I've learned you need to educate yourself on what you don't understand. It's better for everybody."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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