We began the Summer kick-off launching our flagship program “Protect the Dream” with six Metro-Atlanta high school football teams. This is our eight-week Character and Leadership Development program for student-athletes. Over 100 standout players competed to win the coveted “Mason Tomkins Legacy Award.” This POPP award goes to the young person who exemplifies the most outstanding character over the campaign; a leader on and off the field, a positive role model for their peers, and an asset for coaches and teachers. This Summer’s award went to Stephen Michaels, linebacker for the State Champion Milton Eagles. As one coach put it, “Stephen is the kind of young man that we all want our daughters to marry.” That says it all.
This Summer we also launched our POPP “40 Days to Freedom” program with inmates at the Cobb County Jail. We were given the maximum-security block where there have been recent gang violence issues. 24 men, most of whom are rivals or did not know or like one another, were chosen because of their influence among the other residents. This is an incentive-based project where they are equipped to use their influence for peace and earn perks and rewards for ALL the inmates on the block if there is a noticeable difference in behavior among the other inmates and themselves. After eight short weeks, these rivals came together as teams and earned the reward for the whole block to be able to watch Sunday NFL football—which is a BIG deal for them. With this approach, we can help these “men of influence” learn to role model good behavior without losing the respect of their peers and rivals. Incentive-based rehabilitation is the future of corrections if we are going to change. I believe the time has come.
We also launched our POPP “Attitude Science” program with incoming freshmen at Marietta High school. These kids were chosen to participate in a Summer initiative called EXCEL, and POPP became a big part of it. These kids earned credits over the Summer and we prepared them to make the transition smoothly into a very tough environment for a 14-year-old trying desperately to fit in among 2500 other kids. We are now continuing on with these kids and they are doing great. POPP loves Marietta High and they have become one of our Flagship Programs.
It is difficult for me to put into words what I witnessed last night. A dozen brothers, wearing orange jumpsuits, leaders and influential inmates, completed their 40 Days to Freedom. In this POPP program, they study iconic peacemakers from around the world: King, Gandhi, Mandela, etc. Every day they meditate on quotes from these famous freedom fighters; they have daily action challenges which they are expected to complete, things very hard to accomplish in a jail or prison setting; every day they end the day reflecting on what they learned, and what they accomplished. Tonight was their graduation. They shared their papers on their Champion of Peace; they earned certificates; they shared poetry and spoken word. Then they had a feast, at least it was a feast for them. Pizza, cake, cookies, and soft drinks—things that they haven’t had in a very long time. We laughed, we cried, and we celebrated. Free world guests such as a Police Chief, City Councilman, Deputy Sheriff, and other Officers saw what blew their minds. How could they know the brilliance, depth, and beauty hiding inside of these men? They rarely if ever get a chance to shine in these places. Now the real work begins, as they get ready to transition to prison or back to the free world… I love these brothers of mine, we have become close over the eight weeks we have been together, and I am so proud of them. The Power of Peace.
Tonight was a truly magical evening, joyful tears… For years I have been dreaming of reuniting with some of the brothers who were a part of the original twelve, who started this POPP movement at Hays State prison back in 2010. All those brothers have been scattered to other prisons around the state and I didn’t know if I would ever have the opportunity to truly thank them and share with them all that they had done, and the impact that they have made all around the country and even overseas. We worked together for several years building this program which has changed so many lives. They did the hard work and in many ways, I got all the credit. They changed my life forever and are my true heroes, as well as my blood brothers. Tonight I got to speak at Walker State Prison and see them again and tell the whole story in front of all their brothers wearing white with the blue stripe— and show them all the POPP pictures from around the world. God works in mysterious ways: if they had not been on the journey that led them to Hays State prison, then I would’ve never known them, and they couldn’t have changed my life. Maybe one day we’ll look back and get to see all the connecting points and truly appreciate His mighty miracles. I am forever grateful to my brothers in white.
Check out the Power of Peace Project website! More information is available about Kit on KitBuzz.live. He is available to bring the magic into your lives.
This Summer POPP will launch
new Peace Initiatives with Cobb County Juvenile Courts and Cobb County Jail.
The program is built to interrupt and redirect young people who are getting
involved in gang life and to decrease violence in the County Jail stemming from
gang activity. This pilot program was born through our partnership with Judge
Wayne Grannis and Deputy Chief Milton Beck. With youth crime and violence on
the rise, we have to start thinking outside of the box and be willing to try
new ideas and bold initiatives. Public servants and community leaders are
beginning to realize that we cannot arrest our way out of this growing epidemic
or legislate our way out of it either. We must roll up our sleeves, get to
work, and be willing to get our hands dirty—our kids need us now. We are so
grateful for our partnership with Cobb County government, as well as Rotary,
Kiwanis, and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. If these programs are as effective
as we expect them to be, then we will have a model that we can roll out to
other communities around Atlanta and beyond. Peace is on the move!
POPP’s Community Peace
Initiative is moving in this beautiful, historic civil rights city in the
South. Unfortunately, youth crime and violence are on the rise, and street
gangs are claiming the kids. Last Fall POPP arrived in Selma, having been invited
by a group of concerned business leaders, pastors, and elected officials. Since
then, Kit has been going over to Selma twice a month and laying the groundwork
for our Peace Initiative there. Great inroads have been made as Kit has
developed relationships with the business community, faith community,
government leaders, law enforcement, and educators.
Here is what we have found across the nation: In every community there are three vital institutions: schools, jails, and churches. Unfortunately, in many communities, these three institutions have become somewhat dysfunctional. Schools have become a pipeline to the jails. Jails have become a repeat customer business, and churches are often sitting on the sidelines. That’s why POPP has developed three programs to bring communities together and heal them from the inside out: Forty Days to Freedom for the jails; Forty Days of Power for the schools; and Forty Days of Prayer for the churches. Working hand in hand, forty days at a time, community leaders create momentum toward peace, compassion, and unity among these vital institutional components. We have seen measurable success using this model in prisons, and then pulling in schools and churches to support the work. Now we are bringing all those elements together and tackling the issues that are dividing these beautiful but wounded communities across the country.
Selma has suffered for the
Struggle in this divided nation of ours. They are remembered every time there
is a significant MLK holiday, only to be forgotten once again. Outsiders get
their photo on the famous Edmund Pettis Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday, and
then they leave and things return to normal for the residents of this iconic
city; POPP aims to change that. Selma feels used and abused; POPP aims to
correct that. They are not forgotten anymore, and God willing, they will become
a light to the nation, as Dr. King intended. The Dream Lives, and the March
Continues. Let Peace Reign in Selma!