By Briana Vannozzi
“He slammed the book down and said, ’10 years, that’s where you’re going. State Penitentiary,'” said Greg Zambrana.
That’s the kind of real talk police in Linden hope kids will take to heart. On this late March evening, with temptations of after-school fun lingering, basketballs were put aside in favor of a chat.
“There’s so many things that can influence them. It needs to be someone who has been there and done that and is going to give them a positive idea for the future and kind of steer them in the right direction, so pivotal that we get them now before someone else gets a hold of them,” said Linden Police Chief Jonathan Parham.
The “real talk” event is the brain child of Police Athletic League Director Danny Kuczynski, known as “DK” by the kids, bringing together law enforcement, local sports figures and potential at-risk youth, guiding them to make right decisions during difficult situations.
“Nothing more intimidating than an educated person. Trust me. Not basketball, shooting 20 points, that will all go. When you’re educated that lasts a lifetime,” Kuczynski said.
Why does Kuczynski think it’s important this message comes to them from the police community? “It’s a tough question because nowadays there’s a lot of negative. Everything is negative,” he said.
So local figures, who grew up on the same streets, share their stories. Guys like Waliyy Dixon, aka “Main Event,” whose successful basketball career was almost entirely derailed by failing grades and hanging with the wrong crowd.
“It’s more than just tossing the ball around. We have to talk to these kids and a lot of people in the community that may be causing problems, they just need someone to talk to them,” he said.
“It was definitely motivational because I don’t want that to happen to me. I just want to be a great student and eventually be a student athlete,” said 13-year-old Dejhan Lee.
Zambrana spent six years in prison after getting caught up in crime and gangs.
“I was 300-859 for six years. I didn’t even know what my name was no more. That’s all I was, a number,” he said.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I was very tired from work so I wasn’t coming, but I was glad that I came out and I brought the kids. I wish there were more parents that came out to support the event, but I’m very grateful, you know, the speakers were very good and powerful and they sent a great message to the kids,” said Kenyetta Patterson.
“Make sure I stay in the books more, tell my friends to get away from trouble and stay positive in life and make sure that nothing goes wrong,” said 14-year-old Shia Tryese Aikens.
The department says the event will act as a pilot of sorts for future programs. Hoping even if they connect with just one youth, they’ll start to build that bridge in the community.