Memphis Police officer James Smith has seen too many kids fall victim to the streets. But rather than simply focus on arresting young criminals, Smith is hoping to turn their lives around.
The 15-year Memphis Police Department (MPD) veteran leads One Beat, Inc., a nonprofit that provides mentoring to troubled youth and their families.
"Our focal point is taking families, building a partnership with them, and giving them some type of stability. [We provide] somebody they can lean toward to help them out," said Smith, currently a crime scene investigator. "One Beat is everybody coming together on one beat, one accord, one sound and moving with that. We're trying to help one family at a time."
Over the two years that he worked as an undercover officer, Smith said he began to establish relationships with the same people from whom he was conducting undercover drug buys.
"I saw that their family structure was torn apart," Smith said. "Most of these guys were not out here doing it because they were trying to get the fast money. It was that their family structure was so torn apart that they couldn't deal with it. All they wanted was for someone to come in and help them."
The organization intends to do just that through initiatives that range from helping participants polish their computer skills and teaching them the corporate side of running a record label to showing them how to express their creativity through theater.
Operation D.R.E.A.M, a One Beat program, pairs kids with professionals in their choice of career fields. They shadow the professionals for nearly a year. After an evaluation on what they learned from the experience, participants are provided with a $2,000 to $3,000 stipend to help them pursue a career in that field.
The newest program, Girls of Dignity, teaches young women about etiquette, women's health issues, and tips on avoiding teen pregnancy and abstaining from sex.
Smith started One Beat last April, but it wasn't until this year that he introduced many of its initiatives.
The organization is primarily being funded out of pocket, but Smith recently presented a proposal to the Memphis City Council in hopes of collaborating to fund and implement certain programs.
Smith said he plans to bring in other police officers to assist some of the struggling families within the city.
Although Smith works around 80 hours a week with the MPD and serves as an ordained minister, he still finds time to help those in need.
"I'm tired of crime. I'm tired of families being broken up," he said. "I want to help, but it feels like my hands are tied, and the only way I'm going to be able to do that is to get my hands a little dirty. I'm taking off the badge and blue uniform, and I'm getting dirty with them. With the grace of God, my superiors, my community, and my government, we're going to get it together."