DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — You may not see activists marching the streets in Palm Beach County, but there’s motion behind the scenes. The group Inner City Innovators, which mentors at-risk youth, continues to expand its reach and as they say, “bring hope to the hood.”
Getting to know people and lending an ear is Ricky Aiken’s specialty. His team, Inner City Innovators, is made up of young men and women just like the ones they engage with in his neighborhood, the Tamarind corridor on the north end of West Palm Beach.
“Most of our community efforts are to recruit young men between the ages 13 to 24 to see how our mentoring services can be of a benefit to them,” said Norman Austin, programs director and member of Inner City Innovators.
The group’s mission is to show young at-risk men there is more to life than surviving on the streets.
“I think that some of the key concerns faced by young men are finding a sustainable future, finding a future that doesn’t revolve around being trapped in the only community you knew all your life,” said Ricky Aiken, founder of Inner City Innovators.
Part of that change, Aiken explains is understanding how to react to and interact with police officers.
“When you think of the word, you know, police, there’s two different things that come to mind; If you’re from better socioeconomic conditions you think of allies and people who are there to serve and protect. But, when you’re from communities like ours, you’re thinking a threat, you’re thinking it’s someone you got to look out for,” said Aiken.
Perceptions the West Palm Beach Police Department is working to change. Every month the department hosts community meetings in different parts of the city to engage with residents and get their feedback and concerns.
“I believe every police chief in this nation realizes that this is a very important part of our job, to be able to have a trusting relationship with the community,” said Chief Frank Adderley, West Palm Beach Police Department.
Chief Adderley who came to the department in mid-2019 explains it’s a two-way street. The Chief says one of the main obstacles in protecting communities is when eyewitnesses refuse to cooperate, especially when it comes to violent crime.
“How do you watch someone murder your parent, you go to sleep at night knowing you’ve done nothing to bring closure to that case?” said Adderley, referring to the 10 open homicide cases in the city this year, 7 of them having eyewitnesses.
Aiken agrees there’s a need for change not just from the police, but also from the community and that includes more young black men stepping up to become police officers.
“We have a young man in our program that’s training to become a police officer,” he added.
West Palm Beach Police has been working to increase diversity in the force over the years. Since 2019, the percentage of minority officers in the department has increased 5% to a total of 40% in 2021.
Inner City Innovators say they have expanded mentoring services to Riviera Beach and are working to move into Lake Worth Beach.
“Real change happens when the people who need it, lead it. But we cannot do it alone,” said Aiken.