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"Brought the kids together:" Man uses sports to unite Sherman Park neighborhood 1 year after unrest

Posted August 28

— In August of 2016, Milwaukee saw unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood on the heels of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Sylville Smith. A year later, a Milwaukee man is on a mission to bring the neighborhood back together, and he's using sports to do it.

Fires burned in Sherman Park after former Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown shot and killed Smith, causing millions of dollars in damage and destroying businesses.

This summer, it's been very different.

"A lot of positive. A lot of joy. A lot of kids that have been encouraged," Brandon Culpepper said.

Culpepper is the president and CEO of Peppnation Sports Leadership Camps.

"We have workforce development. We have our camps and we have our academy. Our academy focuses on high schools and again, going to college or getting a career and supporting your family and doing so through athletics," Culpepper said.

He brought the program to Sherman Park during the summer of 2017 - six days a week.

"Our focus is making sure the kids not only learn a variety of sports, and learn how their skills can translate between all sports, but these scholarship and financial opportunities that exist as well," Culpepper said.

Moody Park is where the program originated, but after meeting with Milwaukee Police Captain Boris Turcinovic, he expanded the project into Sherman Park, where Turcinovic works.

"I'm a rugby guy. Brandon's a rugby guy, and Clifton Crump from the Fire & Police Commission came to our National Night Out and he got us together," Turcinovic said.

"He heard about rugby. He coaches rugby outside of his daily duties here in the city and he said 'can we do these activities in Sherman Park?' Of course!" Culpepper said.

The key to the program's success was getting families in the neighborhood involved.

"Designing a program specific to Sherman Park and the needs here, going door-to-door with Safe and Sound, identifying how many children in the area of 6th Street where the expressway is and as far west as 60th Street - then imploring and asking those children to come and participate here six days a week," Culpepper said.

"I committed to have some officers in the park during the time of this programming to take part in it, help with flyering. My officers escorted the kids on their bike tours, along with the sheriff's department," Turcinovic said.

A more engaging feel ensued as the program took effect. Officers and kids were able to get to know each other on a very personal level, leading to a much more comfortable and friendly atmosphere.

"A few of our officers that were here in the park were asked to go along on the bike tour and were asked to go along on a Brewers game with the kids - so they are doing something right if the kids want them to come along," Turcinovic said.

17-year-old E'Zohn Gathings said he felt positive effects from his involvement in the program.

"It's brought a lot of the kids together and kept them out of a lot of trouble," Gathings said.

It's the direct effect on the kids in the neighborhood that has Culpepper receiving praise for bringing his idea into the lives of the people in Sherman Park.

"He's just a magnificent young man and we should all be thankful that he's doing what he's doing in Milwaukee. Brandon, in my opinion, should be nominated for Citizen of the Year," Turcinovic said.

Culpepper said humility and hope are the things he's taking from the success of the program.

"To see the kids go past me is ultimately my goal. To take the methodology I used as a child from all my mentors, my mother, my family. For them to take that same knowledge and blow past me," Culpepper said.

Culpepper is looking to expand the summer program in 2018 to other parks in Milwaukee. He's targeting the south side and northwest part of the city.

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