Floridians Love “Their” Children
50 in 52 Journey Featuring Mike Rosenfeld
Early in the morning I headed out from the St. Petersburg home my boyfriend’s father had shared with his wife after a feeble attempt to be helpful and walk the three Whippets…(picture a non naturally dog person first trying to figure out how to use the leash…then how to get it on one dog at a time while the other dogs jumped on me to protect the dog being leashed…then taking out one dog at a time which I figure is all I can handle while the two dogs still inside are whining for the third while the third just pulls incessantly to get back inside with her sisters…yeah, it was futile!)
I was excited for the day that lay ahead and as I drove over the Skyway Bridge I witnessed the glorious beauty of the sunrise over Tampa Bay along the Gulf of Mexico. It was truly breathtaking. I was headed to meet Captain Cherie Adkins a 27 year veteran of the Tampa Police Department who among other things was the first female homicide detective in Tampa.
As I pulled around to the parking garage attached to the Tampa PD there was a bright woman in a pink top and big smile waving me in. This bright woman was Cherie Adkins. As Cherie and I sat down she began to share with me how as a college graduate in 1984 this 5’1 skinny young woman decided she wanted to be a police officer. Her father was dismayed and her Police Academy instructors were amused, taking every opportunity to make life exceedingly difficult for her. 27 years later many of these instructors and classmates are her closest friends, her family. Her father, an IBM executive did not understand why he paid so much for his daughter’s education for her to simply “throw it all away” by becoming a police officer. It took one ride along with his daughter when he witnessed her counsel a woman who lost her husband, break up a violent gang fight. rescue a woman from domestic violence, manage a major motor vehicle accident that her father understood what a police officer really did and how his daughter was using every stitch of her education every moment of the day. Cherie moved through the force with a fury becoming the first female homicide detective in the Tampa PD and now a Captain overseeing many units.
As we sat in Captain Adkins’ office surrounded by pictures of her family and her fellow officers Cherie spoke of the humanity women officers are able to bring to the force. She shared a story of arriving on the scene of a man who died at work. Captain Adkins was to go tell the man’s wife of 50 years what had happened. She kneeled down and took the wedding ring and the watch off the hand of the man. She prepared herself to knock on the door of the man’s home knowing the wife was expecting her husband home for lunch as he had come every day for the last 50 years of their marriage. As his wife opened the door Cherie could see the table in the background set for lunch with a flower in the middle of the table.
Cherie asked to come in and sat down with the woman sharing what had happened and as the woman began to cry she placed the watch and wedding ring into the palm of the woman’s hand held tight in her own.
Cherie at with the woman for four hours reminiscing about her husband, arranging funeral plans, finding a member of her church to come be with her. All things that came naturally to Cherie. She was quick to explain that a male officer would also do his best to comfort but certain things come more naturally to women officers.
Captain Adkins explained that every day on the force they ask themselves “what more can we do for the community?” This is what guides every interaction. In her role Captain Adkins sits on the board of a large domestic violence shelter in Tampa and she is the first one on the scene when there is a problem in the personal lives of any of her officers.
The family that is developed in the force came to Cherie’s aid as well. As Cherie explained, for some reason men are intimidated of women who carry guns, making dating a hard prospect. Later in life she fell in love and married another officer a man with 5 children of his own from a previous marriage. All of the sudden Cherie had everything she dreamed of, a love, a family. Soon she had a granddaughter with the birth of little Bella. Cherie and her husband relished in the role of grandparents taking care of Bella with every opportunity.
The life of the Adkin’s family came to a startling halt when at 8 months old this little angel was diagnosed with Leukemia. The family jumped into action to try to save their baby and the Tampa Police force showed their love for Cherie and Baby Bella by coming together en mass to raise money and support for these treasured officers grand baby.
We spoke for a long time and I sobbed silently behind the camera. I fearfully asked how Bella was today and continued to sob as Cherie explained that two weeks ago Bella was declared cancer free. A miracle, a community, a healthy baby.
Cherie is about to retire from the Tampa PD and her next step, Cherie is about to receive her Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. Never having had the opportunity to have children of her own she is ready. Her students will surely be her children and they are very lucky children at that.
From Cherie to Tricia Harrold at Joshua’s House in Lutz, Florida. I arrived at a beautiful campus of nice houses nestled in the trees behind a donation center and administration building. I learned that Joshua’s house was founded by members of the community who saw a need for a homelike safe place for children being rescued from homes filled with violence. Tricia spoke of working with these children so that they would know some caring and some safety. The children arrive with nothing and she would help take the kids shopping in the donation center filled with new clothing, new toys, new school supplies and they work to bring the children some sense of humanity.
Tricia recounted the story of a young girl who came to her and asked if she would come to school with her for her class’s Mother’s Day tea. With permission from the administration she went to the girl’s school that day and watched as her face lit up when she walked into the room. She was introduced as Miss Trish and given a plant painted with the word “Mom.” While the girl understood that Miss Trish was not her mother in this instance she had some normalcy as she too had someone in the room to share this moment which can be so painful for a child with no one to call “Mom.”
Mixed emotions fill the volunteers as the children leave. Happiness for those going to a better life and a tinge of loss of one more they loved.
I learned that Tricia had not been able to have children of her own and 30 years ago began opening her home to foster children. In her 30 years as an emergency placement home some 50 children had taken shelter and received love and caring from this woman and her husband. Early on the Harrold’s adopted two of the little girls in their care and today she has three wonderful grandchildren who she brings to Florida every summer for three weeks of fun with grandma.
From Lutz to Marco Island (not without a little GPS drama). On Marco Island I headed to meet Karen Saeks the founder of Bedtime Bundles. When I arrived to this community a place of beauty taken out of a page of pictures of paradise, about an hour late (GPS drama…), I found a room filled with Bedtime Bundles volunteers. I quickly learned a story about a life of relative calm and beauty shaken up by the discovery of the Migrant Work Camps 15 minutes from Paradise. When Karen learned about the camps she asked a school teacher to take her to see. She visited and was dismayed to see the conditions of life in these camps for families. Karen was especially moved to see the children had little in the way of a clean place to sleep.
Karen lept into action and as her husband watched on in amazement and utter love for his incredible wife Bedtime Bundles was born. Together with a fleet of volunteers Karen scours the country for deals on items to put into these bundles. Extra large pillow cases were sewn with ties to create a reusable sack and filled to the brim with pajamas, sweat shirts for the cold winter nights, pillows blankets, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toys and of course a stuffed animal to hold and love while they sleep.
I accompanied Karen and her volunteers to make a delivery to one of the local camps and watched as the residents still around flocked to Karen with hugs and called her their angel. Beyond the bedtime bundles Karen has made sure there is a daily delivery of fresh bread to the camps. This delivery is significant as Karen went to every church and synagogue on Marco Island and had them split up the seven day a week delivery.
The camps were certainly a place tough to imagine living. Even n my own experience of poverty as a child I never experienced the type of living one endures in a Migrant Work camp. Most of the units were empty as the growing season is over and the workers have moved North to follow the work. Karen just hopes to provide some dignity to the workers and mostly hopes to provide the children an opportunity to grow up, be loved, have some items of their own and maybe understand through all that Bedtime Bundles does that they can have a bright future of their very own.
I learned that Karen was never able to have any children of her own, a theme for the day, and she felt that G-d had given her the ability to love all children unconditionally and she wanted to focus that love to help children who are here by circumstance, not choice.
I left my new friend and headed across the Everglades for Miami. I was anxious about the drive as my fear…alligators and my “friends” took no shame in telling me stories of people who got stopped on the side of the road for some reason or another and were eaten by the hungry gators. I get n the road and was shocked by the “Panther Crossing” signs every couple of miles. No one worried me about that one! I was taking the speed limit at a somewhat excellerated rate…but had the comfort of knowing that if I had a problem I would not get out of the car, I’d just call for help…then I noticed I had NO SIGNAL!! So I tried to think positive thoughts and just admire the beauty of the Everglades and take comfort in the fencing that I’m assuming was put there to protect the animals from diversion to the road for food…
I arrived early (imagine that!) to Youth Expressions in Little Haiti to meet with Mike Rosenfeld. I had no idea what to expect. What I found was this young man who looked like he could fit in on the cover of a teen magazine for little girls to drool upon. When we sat down I met a man who is in touch with himself, with the Universe and with the amazing bright teens who make up Youth Expressions.
Mike had moved to Miami from Philadelphia when he was 14. It was not long before Mike was connected to gangs and became aware that his young friends were starting to die. He became frightened about his own mortality and about this time was picked up by the cops and brought to the police station with his parents. His parents were shown pictures of Mike’s illegal activities and were told that their son was going to end up dead or in jail and they had to either put him into military academy or jail. They put him into military academy which started Mike’s long journey of self discovery which took him to the depths of his soul Mike even began study to become a Rabbi. He had a revelation, he had figured out how to save his life, if he could teach his friends, perhaps they too would no longer be at such high risk in their lives.
Today a life coach, a yogi and the genius director of 10 year old Youth Expressions Mike has harnessed the energy and creativity of the teens in Little Haiti giving them a platform to figure out how to save their own lives, ow to save their friends lives and how to express all of the conflicted experiences in their young lives through music, arts, physical activity. He has given love, counsel, family and hope to beautiful people who know have a vehicle to share their stories and help their own friends. Mike has given power to young adults who thought in order to have it they needed weapons. This has certainly not been an easy path, on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend this past year one of the Youth Expressions family members was killed by someone who wanted his chain. A kid who was not in a gang, who had a bright future, who was much loved was taken violently. Mike spoke about those tenuous moments where the Youth Expressions kids had a real choice, retaliate or honor this young man’s memory in the Youth Expressions way. Watch the video to learn how it went.
The interview ended after hearing songs and hearing stories and the conversation continued until the day turned to the next. I earned about Haitian culture, I learned about pain, I leaned about hope and I learned that this incredible man who brought it all together is also still on his journey.
I pulled into my friend Deanna’s apartment complex two blocks from the Atlantic ocean at 2:00 in the morning. We shared a few minutes catching up and I dreamed of walking the two blocks just to dip my toes into the sand and water but knew I had to be in the car by 5:30 to make it back to Tampa in time for my last interviews in Florida and so as I napped for a few hours and hit the road I bid the Atlantic farewell without so much as a glance and knew as I drove away that my life has again been touched forever by the people I met and my mind (if not my body) was swimming.
|»||See how the Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP program at FIU changes lives|
|»||Purchase Alan Lomax In Haiti: Recordings For The Library Of Congress, 1936-1937, nominated for two GRAMMY Awards.|
|»||Watch GFF President Kimberly Green's CGI Stories segment about the music of Alan Lomax.|