RIVIERA BEACH — Riviera Beach police Crime Scene Detective Andrew Hinds was the investigator on the ground the night of last Sept. 1 when shots rang out during the Sweet 16 birthday party in Newcomb Hall at the Riviera Beach Marina where two teens died.
On May 9, 30 elementary school students of Haitian descent graduated from Hinds’ G.R.E.A.T. program, — Gang Resistance Education And Training — part of a national initiative designed to thwart gang violence.
The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, who attend Bethel Junior Academy, 2850 Ave. F, Riviera Beach, successfully completed the six-week program. Topics included bullying, anger management and making good choices.
“Chief (Clarence) Williams fully backs this program as a response to the issue of gang violence, which is something all cities, no matter what size, have to deal with,” Hinds said. “This is one way Riviera Beach is responding, at the grassroots level.”
The graduation ceremony lasted about an hour and featured Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters, who congratulated the young graduates and interacted with them throughout the ceremony. In his role of a bishop, he had the students recite The Lord’s Prayer and told them the prayer can help them in any situation.
“This anti-gang program is so important, because, if we can train children at a young age, they will grow up to do the right thing. If we can get them to be proactive, we can find ourselves building more colleges and universities instead of prisons,” Masters said.
Hinds said he was excited about this first graduation ceremony. “We want to try to reach the whole city with this type of program,” he said. The program was taught at the city’s Youth Empowerment Program and at the Boys and Girls Club. Now Hinds wants to get it into more schools.
“Good interaction with the kids lets them know we are behind them,” he said. “They know they can come to us and talk to us and we can be a mentor.”
The violence at Newcomb Hall sparked a conversation last year on relations between HaitianAmericans and African Americans and a purported rift between the two groups of young people.
Community leaders throughout Palm Beach County have formed groups aimed at tackling crime that erupts as a result of cultural differences or other reasons.
The Black Educators Caucus convened a meeting which brought together community members to brainstorm on how to ease tensions and reduce the level of violence.
One group, Riviera Beach’s Commission on Social Justice, was formed just days after the tragedy at the Sweet 16 party where a fight broke out and the two teens were killed.
One of the alleged gunmen told police he took a gun to the party in case a problem started between Haitian Americans and African Americans.
Bethel Junior Academy has an enrollment of primarily Haitian-American students but is open to students of all ethnicities.
Principal James Previlus said in the wake of the Newcomb Hall violence that prevention and education are key to easing tensions.