This past weekend, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department hosted a community outreach day on the campus of Northside Baptist Church.
There was a basketball and gaming tournament as well as a carnival of resources, including free food and clothing distribution.
There was also one man who stood out in the crowd, and not just because he stands 6′4″ tall, but because of his big heart.
In June 2020, Preston Gaines joined the CMPD cadet program.
“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement and the police force,” Gaines said. “In the cadet program, I get hands-on learning from actual police officers in the field. It was something that I couldn’t really pass up.”
During CMPD community outreach day, he joined officers from the police community engagement team on the campus of Northside Baptist Church.
Building strong relationships and mutual trust between CMPD and the community it serves was top of mind for the police engagement team.
He was the tallest in stature on the court, and his compassion for the community was huge.
“I love doing stuff like this because we’re having a food drive with families who might not have enough to eat,” Gaines said. “I want to specifically help the youth. I want to see the people going up inside America, inside our society succeed because the children are our future.”
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Cadet Program provides qualified students actively enrolled in a local college an opportunity to work in a professional law enforcement environment while learning about and training for future employment as a CMPD officer.
Gaines is a criminal justice major at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I believe that, coming from a Black community, it is important for them to see a familiar face. Somebody that knows their struggle. Knows where they come from and knows how they feel,” he said.
Gaines joined fellow cadets and CMPD officers on the basketball court.
The games were as intense as anything you’d see on ESPN, but the biggest goal scored was the value of the relationships being made between the players.
Each basketball team comprised at least one CMPD officer, a CMPD cadet and a kid from the community.
One of those players is Harding University High School student Jamari Smith, who has been part of the Police Athletic League since he was in second grade.
“It’s really good energy here,” Smith said. “It’s something positive, so I had to come.”
Interacting with the community sometimes presents special challenges to law enforcement officials. It can be especially difficult in the wake of recent protests against police brutality.
“If we teach youth the right things, then as they grow up then they can teach the next generation the right things, and then it’ll be a continuing cycle of good,” Gaines said.
It was a day when you could see the camaraderie on the faces of the players, in the interaction of the volunteers, and in the happiness of the kids playing video games alongside these community cops.
“I want to give kids like a father figure or a role model to look up to,” Gaines said. “You show them that hey, I’m here for you and I want to help you succeed.”
It was a win both on and off the court.
“I feel like, me, I’m a natural-born healer,” he said. “I always want to give myself to somebody else.”
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.