For a few minutes Monday morning, a Miami Beach police detective and a high school kid from Hialeah stood before the NFL’s 32 NFL teams and told a story that brought some to tears.
Detective Chris Mitchell and Tyrese Cullet, a confident senior at Hialeah High, are an unlikely pair.
But on Monday, their remarkable relationship was held up as an example of how communication, understanding and patience can build bridges between police officers and the underrepresented communities that distrust them.
The NFL for three years now has grappled with how to address the needs of players upset with police behavior toward minority communities without alienating a good chunk of the league’s fan base. Player protests during the national anthem succeeded in elevating the issue, but also angered many who saw kneeling as disrespectful.
Great progress has been made on that front. The kneeling has mostly stopped. The league has pledged millions in donations to programs combating social inequality. But the NFL wants to do more than simply cut a check. Mitchell and Cullet’s emotional presentation at the NFL annual meeting was just the latest example.
“My heart beating out of my chest,” Cullet, 18, said after his talk with owners, coaches and more. “Once I started talking, everything was easy.”
His story tells itself.
Three years ago, Cullet hated cops. His cousin died in New York in a police involved shooting, Cullet said, and the circumstances left him angry with all of law enforcement. Cullet admittedly had an issue with authority that followed him from New York to South Florida.
Meanwhile, Mitchell was lost. His son died two weeks prior to his high school graduation after being found unresponsive due to an undetected congenital heart disorder.
“That was shocking to me,” Mitchell said. “It was hurtful. To be honest with you, I just wanted to give up.
“Right after that, that’s when Big Brothers Big Sisters partnered up with our police department,” he continued. “It was a mentor/mentee program. I started looking into it. At first I wasn’t going to do it, but colleagues of mine, my wife, kind of pushed me in that direction of being a mentor, and I’m so glad that they did. It just shows you how God works. I was matched up with Tyrese and he kept me busy. Trust me. He really did. But I was able to, he was, I was able to get past it. He helped push me forward. I’m very thankful. It was a win-win.”
It took time before the winning started, however.
Cullet, who plays on the offensive and defensive lines at Hialeah High, loathed the idea of being paired with a cop.
For nine months, he fought it, telling Mitchell that he wasn’t coming to their scheduled meetings.
But shared grief helped break down the barrier. Understanding demolished it.
“Little by little, I was softening up and he told me about his son passing,” Cullet said. “I see him as a big brother, and he sees me as a little brother thanks to him.”
Added Mitchell: “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I looked at him as my son. That’s what really made me pour a lot of energy into him.”