The Los Angeles Rams and social justice nonprofit RISE brought together four Southern California high schools for their RISE with the Rams Leadership and Community-Building Initiative. In the six-session program, football players from Bell, Los Angeles, Oakes Christian, and Simi Valley High Schools learned about various topics including implicit bias and equality.
In their fifth session, the student athletes along with members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) visited SoFi Stadium and participated in a discussion on the fundamentals of building trust in the Rams locker room.
To start the session, the student athletes and LAPD members did a trust walk exercise. The participants were paired up and one had to guide the other through an obstacle course of chairs. The person being guided had to cover their eyes and only follow the directions given to them.
After completing the trust walk in pairs, they did the trust walk-in groups where student athletes had to lead several participants. The goal of the exercise was so the participants learn how to put trust in others and how to build trust. Watching the students communicate during the exercise was a highlight for RISE senior director of programs Scott Koenning.
“They were clear, they were respectful, both with their teammates and students with other schools,” Keonning said. “Then when we have the officers involved in the trust walk, you could also see that even though these were completely new people … they were willing to listen.”
During the discussion, the students talked about what causes people to trust or mistrust others. They also talked about how trust correlates with police officers and how certain communities find them untrustworthy.
“I think having the opportunity for our kids to be in a program that unifies everyone and unifies us as one,” said Simi Valley head football coach Jim Benkert. “We talk about it a lot as a football team and as a family and then the differences that we have are really similarities that we have.”
Through the sessions, Bell senior quarterback Angel Medina learned the difference between equality and equity through RISE with the Rams.
“It opens us up, it allows us to see how we could cope with certain areas,” Medina said. “It allows us to emphasize what we love doing and we’re able to show people the correct way to do things through what we love doing which is football.”
RISE has been in partnership with the Rams for five years; franchise social justice and football development coordinator Noel Grigsby noted how the exercises helped the students develop a deeper understanding of each other and law enforcement.
“We understand the barriers between members of the community as well as law enforcement as well as kids from different walks of life,” Grigsby said. “We want to break down those barriers and give them the opportunity to learn that our core, we are all the same.”
At the end of the program, the teams have to complete a group project to present at the sixth session. The student athletes were given time at the end of this session to work on their projects. LAPD sergeant Luq Watkins has been participating in RISE with the Rams for four years.
“When you get people in here with mixed perspectives, I think it’ opens the door to opportunity,” Watkins said. “That’s an opportunity to educate, opportunity to learn, but most important I think really, it’s an opportunity of understanding.”