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I want to be great’: Why a Dallas police officer mentors an ambitious Oak Cliff teen
- Written by Cassandra Jaramillo Cassandra Jaramillo
- Created: 29 December 2018 29 December 2018
Oak Cliff - David W. Carter High School student Sedric Owens already boasted a strong resume of leadership: percussionist section leader, student council member, cadet in the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps.
But Sedric, 16, whose father died in 2016, wanted a mentor — someone who could give him advice about colleges and careers.
After he signed up for a new mentoring program, he found out he’d been paired through his school with Dallas police Officer Victor Guardiola, who had been mentored as a teen by a cop.
For Sedric, that idea was a little intimidating. The boy had never had an encounter with a police officer.
“I was scared. I said, ‘I think you’re looking for my twin brother,” Sedric said, with a laugh. Sedric likes to joke that he is the “good twin.”
But the two have bonded in recent months. They were paired together after a viral call last year for male mentors to visit Billy Earl Dade Middle School students. Organizers had asked for help so no child would be left without a male role model at a breakfast-with-dads event. The response was overwhelming; nearly 600 men volunteered.
Pastor Donald Parish Jr., who helped lead that mentoring event, then founded a nonprofit called A Steady Hand, which focuses on fatherhood initiatives, male mentoring and educational exposure. He brought his program to his alma mater, Carter High.
“I’ve been long enough to be frustrated about change that needs to happen. We need to invest in these young people,” Parish said. “We are here to expose the lie about inner city kids. They’re not thugs or gangsters.”
Researchers have studied the roles and impacts of formal and natural mentorship programs. In 2000, a Harvard University study with 959 students, researchers found that students with mentors performed better performance in school and had increased self-esteem.
Researcher Noelle Hurd, who teaches at the University of Virginia, has focused on mentorship effects within black adolescents. She found the best benefits happen when there is a "close relationship bond."
"It's about someone who understands you. It's not just mentoring. It's about strong connections," Hurd said.
Police Chief U. Renee Hall, who served as a mentor when she was with the Detroit Police Department, said she supports the Dallas program. She said police officers take a oath “committing to more than public safety” to their communities.
When Parish visited the Dallas Police Department’s southwest division to talk about A Steady Hand, the 32-year-old Guardiola was immediately interested.
Hall, in an email, lauded the veteran of nearly six years.
“I want to encourage more of our officers to embark on this journey and I am proud of Officer Guardiola, and our other officers who are mentoring as they are setting such a positive example for our youth,” she wrote.
Guardiola said his end goal is “to make a kid inspired.”
“Make them know: ‘Yes, you can be anything,’” he said.
The mentor’s call
Guardiola was inspired by law enforcement when he was 14.
He went out to play with friends with BB guns in a park. Shortly afterward, several officers pulled up. But one of the officers recognized Guardiola because he was part of the department’s explorer program for kids.
“I realize that could have gone bad,” said Guardiola, a six-year veteran officer. “The fact [the officer] took time to assess the situation made all the difference.”
The officer, Scott Frazier, began to mentor Guardiola, a first-generation Mexican-American immigrant.
“Realistically, I could have been going the wrong way,” Guardiola said. “But thanks to that officer, he helped me see between right and wrong.”
Guardiola joined the Marines after high school. After eight years of service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he came home. He applied to the Dallas and Duncanville police departments, and ended up hearing back from Dallas first.
Frazier, who now works for Irving police, said he stays in touch with Guardiola and has enjoyed watching his progress.
“When we would ride out, he was very mature for his age. He had a goal in mind on his own,” Frazier said “We gave him nudges in the right direction.”
For Sedric, the mentor relationship is important, especially after his father died.
Sedric said he tries to use the tragedy as motivation for self-improvement.
“I chose to take the good path,” Sedric said, holding onto his backpack as he waited for his mentor in the hallway. “I want to be great. I’m thinking about my daddy.”
When Guardiola visits Carter High School, he brings lunch for Sedric. On a recent visit, Sedric holds a resume in his hands, along with a brochure for the top five schools he is considering.
“Everybody is really proud of you,” Guardiola says to Sedric.
“How’s everything at home?” he follows up, asking about Sedric’s four siblings and mom.
“It’s hard for a single mother,” Sedric tells Guardiola. “I don’t really ask my momma for a lot. I’ll ask, maybe, for $10.”
Sedric adds: “I’m expected to be the first one in my family to go to college. That’s my goal.”
Guardiola listens and nods.
Sedric tells Guardiola he’s thought about taking a similar path — joining the Marines or maybe, becoming a police officer.
Guardiola thinks the sky's the limit for the junior student.
“You could be President Owens in 30 years,” Guardiola told Sedric. “Nothing is holding you back.”
Source: Dallas Morning News