As part of Bengals.com's high school journalism program, this story is written by a member of the journalism club at Cincinnati's Aiken New Tech High School headed by Lakisha Zyyon and Susan McElroy.
Multiple organizations around Cincinnati joined together to create a sanctuary for Cincinnati youth on a chilly night earlier this season at Paycor Stadium when the Cincinnati Recreation Center, the Cincinnati Police Department, and the Cincinnati Bengals united under the Dive Right Program in their version of the Super Bowl.
The Dive Right Program is a youth development experience providing a safe space in a flag football league. There are about 80 students from Cincinnati, Dayton, and Northern Kentucky invited to participate in the program.
The Dive Right Program started as a partnership between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cincinnati Police Department in 2018. The program pairs a Bengals player and a police officer to coach a team of young people both on the field and during diversity workshops they conduct each week.
"There is a different topic that the program focuses on each week. Conflict resolution, implicit bias or how to be proactive and engaging leaders are just a few of the topics they players and officers have lead the youth through." says Alex Simons, Director of Community Engagement for the Bengals.
The youth spend about two hours a week at Paycor Stadium with the players and officers. For the first hour of each week, the coaches and youth talk about diversity topics while hearing each other's perspective in an engaging yet safe environment, interacting with police officers as well as Bengals players.
Cincinnati Recreation Commission's Tiffany Stewart, Division Manager of Citywide Programs and Outreach, assisted. To her, Dive Right is not just about playing football but also helping youth develop important social skills. "The students who may not usually speak or even be around police officers are actually being coached and mentored by some of them and really learning how to engage and build those relationships with the police," Stewart says.
CPD Police Chief is Teresa Theetge is also enthusiastic about the program creating opportunities for youth to develop into better people while providing a safe and open space for years to come.
"It's a culmination of a lot of hard work and preparation by everybody," Theetgee says. "The officers get satisfaction interacting with youth from our neighborhoods and we hope that the kids get something out of an interaction with the officers so that they can see that we're more than just the uniform. We have personalities and we're individuals as well."