Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Iraqi Five-O: An American Cop’s Story

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- All I wanted was a haircut,

but the moment I walked into the barbershop

someone teased me by saying,

"Uh-oh, 5-0 is in the building."

Soon I was talking about matters related to the police force

with the barbers, a pastor, a young man,

and a community leader.

As it turned out,

the conversation was humanizing, candid, and refreshing.

That experience gave me an idea.

I launched a program called Cops and Barbers

where police officers in uniform

visit barbershops around the city

and spark authentic conversations

with the hairdressers and their clients,

the people we promise to protect and to serve.

It's a liberating experience

when we step into community spaces

and have honest conversations about our common concerns.

We are able to see the shared humanity that bridges us

and not so much what divides us.

Hi, my name is Omar Salem.

I'm a police sergeant and a SWAT team leader

with the City of Napa, California,

and a practicing Muslim.

Let me share with you my story.

A few years ago,

I was assigned as a school resource officer

at a local high school

where rival gang members were fighting

in an endless cycle of an eye for an eye.

It got to the point

where we could not arrest our way out of the problem.

Something had to change.

I thought I'd be able to relate to these teens

because I'm the son of parents

who fled the war in Iraq and Afghanistan

and moved to America.

I grew up surrounded by Latino culture.

My stepmom was Mexican (speaks in foreign language)

and I learned to connect with people

from very different backgrounds.

So I sat down with the rival gang members at school

and we talked about what they needed

to break the cycle of violence

and how we might bring about change.

I realized what they were really looking for

was a sense of belonging and validation.

In each of them, I saw a Malcolm.

Let me explain.

Malcolm X was an African American Muslim

whose short life was full of radical transformations.

He started as an idealistic boy

in an all-white grammar school

whose dreams of becoming a lawyer were shattered

by the murder of his father

and a racist schoolteacher.

Then came the rebellious Malcolm Little,

a youth who landed in prison

for larceny and breaking and entering.

In prison, he began to read

and embrace the life of the mind

that transformed him into the man we know as Malcolm X,

who became a leader in the nation of Islam,

a black nationalist religious movement.

- [Malcolm X] Or freedom for nobody.

- Based on his early life

and the doctrine of his new teacher, Elijah Muhammad,

he saw all white people as devils and as enemies

and believed that African Americans

should advance their cause by any means necessary.

Later, however, after falling out with his teacher

and making the pilgrimage to Mecca,

Malcolm found himself within mainstream Islam

and was transformed once more.

He recognized the universal dignity of all humankind

and he even welcomed

working with well-intentioned white people.

What inspires me most about Malcolm

was how he changed his views when he learned new truths.

It takes strength to seek knowledge and purpose

and to admit that our assumptions are wrong.

From Malcolm, I learned to see the strength in others

and to understand their potential to change themselves.

I was also inspired

by the story of Muhammad Ali and Joe Martin.

Muhammad Ali grew up as a black kid named Cassius Clay

in the segregated city of Louisville.

One day when Cassius was 12,

someone stole his bike,

so he went to police station to report the theft.

He met Joe Martin, a white officer,

and told Martin that if he ever caught the thief

he would whoop him.

Officer Martin was not only fighting segregation in the city

but was also a local boxing instructor,

so he asked little Cassius if he knew how to fight.

When Cassius said he didn't,

Martin invited him to the integrated Columbia Gym

where he taught boxing.

A kind and caring officer,

Martin continued to coach him

and in 1960, accompanied him to the Olympics,

where Clay won the gold medal for the USA.

Clay later embraced Islam and became Muhammad Ali

and always credited Martin with launching his boxing career.

The African American Muslim and the white policeman

became lifelong friends.

The common thread in the stories

of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali

is the importance of reaching impressionable youth

with care and compassion

and mentoring them before they take the wrong path

that inevitably leads to prison.

That brings me back to those teenage gang members.

When I saw the humanity and the desire to belong

buried beneath their aggressive exteriors,

it motivated me to co-found Legacy Youth Project,

a program to provide a safe,

transformative space for students.

It was all about heart work,

about developing character.

Like Malcolm taught me,

once the character was refined,

knowledge and learning follows.

And like Muhammad Ali showed me,

a caring cop can make all the difference

in the life of a youngster.

We asked the rival gang members

to participate in a pilot project for six months.

We went back to the basics.

They learned how to enter a classroom

in a respectful manner.

Then they had to understand

that their typical derogatory greetings were dehumanizing

and learned to use words that honor the receiver.

Overall, they realized to break the cycle

of conflict and pain,

they had to confront their misconceptions

honestly and humbly

and work to understand and empathize

with their fellow human beings

no matter how different they seem.

The result was phenomenal:

100% high school graduation rate

and a 75% increase in the average GPA.

The project was later featured

in a documentary called "The Mask You Live In."

Years later, one teenager wrote this

on his college application:

My participation in the program

led me to a transformational academic and human experience,

where I discovered layers about myself

that my former gang affiliation had suppressed.

He's now married and working successfully.

That's a life saved. That's prophetic.

His story will always remind me of the power of empathy

and the influence a conscious police officer can have

in the lives of troubled youth.

Can you imagine what our communities would become

if we all used our spheres of influence

to relate rather than alienate

and to connect rather separate?

Let's grow comfortable with being uncomfortable

and learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

There's a lot of work to be done

to begin to change this great nation

and some of it is most certainly in the way we police,

but let's also celebrate

and never forget this nation's continued move

towards a more perfect union.

Our work begins with the light

of an honest and humble conversation

at a barbershop or a school

that may lift the fog

from the bridges that have always connected us.

Thank you.

I'm Sergeant Omar Salem for the Emir-Stein Center.

If this message is meaningful to you,

please share it with a friend or colleague.

(mellow music)

(bright music)

(air whooshing)

The Description of Iraqi Five-O: An American Cop’s Story