Garden Grove

Combatting hate with “I AM” project

GARDEN GROVE Police Chief Todd Elgin (right) introduces Alyssa Castille to officers and members of the professional staff at the 2 p.m. shift briefing on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

GARDEN GROVE Police Chief Todd Elgin (right) introduces Alyssa Castille to officers and members of the professional staff at the 2 p.m. shift briefing on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC.

By Greg Hardesty

It all started with a conversation with my mom about hate in the world.

The 9-year-old girl began her speech with these words while standing atop a table in the briefing room of the Garden Grove PD, a couple dozen officers and staff members facing her.

I don’t understand racism and why people hate each other for the color of their skin, because in my home I was taught that everyone is the same no matter what they look like.

Tuesday was a big day for Alyssa Castille.

On Aug. 30, the petite Garden Grove girl visited the police station with her parents and little sister to explain to the officers a campaign she created called “I AM.”

Its mission?

To eliminate negativity, racism and bullying while learning how to spread love in the world.

How?

Through the distribution of pins that declare a person’s favorite color — colors that describe the person as an individual and how he or she should be viewed by others, with cool acronyms for each letter of that color.

For example, Alyssa wears the button “I AM BLACK,” with “black” representing “Beautiful, Loving, Awesome, Confident, Kind.”

ALYSSA CASTILLE (Behind the Badge photo).

ALYSSA CASTILLE (Behind the Badge photo).

I AM stands for how we see ourselves and others. We are all special in our own way. It’s not about what we see on the outside, but what we carry on the inside that counts.

Alyssa’s idea came after hearing a recent dinner-table discussion between her parents. They were talking about recent racism and hate going on in the U.S., especially in connection with the black community and law enforcement.

Alyssa, whose father, Erik, is black, took it upon herself to do something about the current culture of hate and came up with the idea of distributing pins to people.

Tuesday, she handed out to 15 GGPD officers pins that read “I AM BLUE,” for “Brave, Loyal, Upstanding and Elite.” She and her family also brought Krispy Kreme donuts for the officers.

I wanted to thank all (of you) for keeping our communities safe. You are great examples and role models to everyone. I also want to thank you for teaching us to always do the right thing.

Chief Todd Elgin invited Alyssa to Tuesday’s briefing after he met with her a week earlier. He heard about Alyssa and her “I AM” campaign through Cindy Nagamatsu Hanlon, manager of the Garden Grove PD’s Community Liaison Division.

Nagamatsu Hanlon arranged Tuesday’s presentation.

I made the “I AM” pins for people to wear so they can identify with words that build themselves and others up.

Elgin introduced Alyssa and her family to the officers.

“We talk about community relations all the time and we talk about community support, and in light of everything that’s going on (nationally) for quite a while now… it is so nice to have somebody come into the police department like this person I am going to introduce now,” the chief said.

Elgin said he was impressed that a 9-year-old was thinking about serious social issues, and he thanked her for the pins.

“I want to thank you for your efforts and your conscience,” Elgin said.

Alyssa’s mother, Loraine, told the officers and other GGPD employees at the briefing she was “blown away” when her daughter told her about her idea for the pins.

“I just had to push her and guide her in the right direction,” Loraine Castille said.

I don’t like hearing news about bullying and hate it because it makes me sad. I wanted to figure out a way to stop others from hating people and to stop bullying by creating ‘I AM.’

Elgin praised Alyssa’s parents — they also brought along 1-year-old daughter Autumn — for taking responsibility for their kids, and for making a difference by raising their children in a responsible way.

Alyssa, who is half Puerto Rican, half black, hopes to expand the “I AM” campaign to Boys and Girls clubs, schools and the community at large.

“I was nervous at first,” the fourth-grader at Sunny Side Elementary said of her presentation. “But after a while I wasn’t. I had fun.”

Alyssa and her family have lived in Garden Grove, not far from PD headquarters, for five years.

When she grows up, Alyssa wants to be a police officer.

Elgin urged Alyssa to join the GGPD Explorer and Cadet programs, and told her she has a very promising future.

Together we can change the world one person at a time.

This article originated with BehindThe Badge.com and provided to the Orange County Tribune by arrangement. To see more on Orange County law enforcement news, issues and personalities, go to http://www.behindthebadgeoc.com .

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