NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes bestowed a special holiday gift upon the young women of the Girl Talk program on Dec. 15.
Girl Talk is a mentorship program founded by Holmes and designed for NYPD officers to serve as surrogate families to at-risk youth, many of whom stem from broken homes and a difficult upbringing. Each month police headquarters holds a special discussion with notable women in order to inspire the female teens and shine a light on their future path. For the holiday season, Holmes pulled out all the stops and presented Misty Copeland, the first black woman to be promoted to principal dancer.
“What we do, we do for you,” Holmes said to an auditorium full of teenage girls, introducing Copeland as a woman who has broken numerous racial and gender barriers.
Excited to hear the world-renowned ballet dancer speak, the girls danced in conga lines before the presentation began. When Copeland took to the stage, she commented on this, and shared that unlike other ballet dancers who start at the age of 4, she began practicing ballet when she was 13 years old. One year after she started, she won her first national ballet contest. Throughout Copeland’s tenure, she has worked with the American Ballet Theater as a soloist and principal dancer, and in many cases, she was the only black woman on stage.
“I’ve been where you are right now. I understand what it is like to be a young girl in this world to not only have representation and support,” Copeland said, “It was dance, music, and having a mentor that came into my life that believed that I had the potential to be more than my surroundings. There was a future for me to do great things and to be a part of something new for myself.”
In addition to the excitement of listening to Copeland, the young ladies and their mentors in blue entered One Police Plaza Wednesday night to discover a Christmas wonderland waiting for them. Gigantic balloons in the shape of candy canes and gifts adorned the auditorium while Santa Claus himself greeted attendees with a wave and his jolly laugh. But for many in attendance, the holiday cheer was secondary to what has essentially become a surrogate home for them.
“I have learned a lot from Sam,” Razoya Palmer told amNewYork Metro, looking to her mentor, police officer Samantha Mercado. “She has taught me to be more confident in myself. I was a very closed-off person at times, and she’s helped me open myself up.”
Palmer beamed as she spoke about the role the officer has had in her life. The feeling is also a mutual one. Mercado says she has learned just as much from the young women.
“I look forward to it and I come into work happy. It feels like a sisterhood. We’ve become very close, and I literally look forward to every meeting,” Mercado explained.