AB&T

Eliminating Boundaries, Strengthening Bonds

By Brad McEwen

Roughly 25 years ago, when then APD training officer and current Chief of Police Michael Persley rolled up to some local projects to respond to a call, he very likely had no idea that the young man he put in the back of his cruiser that night would one day sit in my office, telling me how that encounter was the start of one of the most impactful relationships that 16 year old would ever forge.

And he certainly would have been surprised to learn that the defiant young man he was dragging home to face the wrath of his mother would one day point to that night as a pivotal moment in his journey toward building a better community.

“I’m going to tell you where my story with the Chief comes in,” APD Corporal Dramoski Franklin told me just a few days after being honored by the department and the City of Albany for his work with youth in the community. “Me and Chief go way back, to my high school days. I met the Chief when I was 16 years old.

“I was playing basketball for Monroe High School, because I went to Monroe for one year, and at night we used to do little crazy stuff like call the police and take off running when they showed up and stuff.

“So we were hanging out in the housing projects next to where we lived at and we were over there with our friends. So the police pull up and we take off running. That night, which the Chief was just in training back then, I decide I’m tired of running. I’m just going to sit down right here in the back of my friend’s house. And I’m sitting on the back porch and they pull around and see me and I’m like, ‘Oh man.’

“He said, ‘What are you doing out here? You know you not supposed to be out here in these projects at night.’ And I’m like, ‘Man.’ And I’m talking back and forth to him like I’m just bad you know and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to take you home.’

“By this time, in my heart I’m like, ‘Alright, if I get home my mom is going to kill me!’ So I’m sitting in the back seat, and I’m talking all bad and I get home knowing my mom is a real disciplinarian. She didn’t play that. Police don’t bring her children home. It wasn’t that type of game in our house.

“So I get there and the Chief tells her, ‘He’s over there in the projects and he’s not supposed to be over there.’ And as he’s getting ready to leave he goes, ‘Oh yeah and he said his mom wasn’t going to do anything to him.’ Man, my mom beat me down right there in front of him.

“It’s a funny story. Even now the Chief will say stuff like, ‘You want me to call your mama?’ And I’m like, ‘Man, come on.’

“But after that first incident—I was really into working out and staying fit so I would always jog with weights in my bag—whenever the chief would see my jogging he would stop me. It eventually went from me being mad because he’s stopping me, to, ‘What’s up Officer Persley? How you doing?’ He always kept a check on me. Then when I go back over to Albany High, guess who’s my SRO (school resource officer)? Mike Persley.”

But the connection didn’t end there. Even as he entered into adulthood, and headed off to join the Army National Guard, Michael Persley was still destined to be in Dramoski’s life.

“I never knew back then that he was in the National Guard so when I got out of basic and got to my unit, guess who my supervisor is? Michael Persley.”

Dramoski, a sergeant in the Guard who joined after graduating from Albany High in 1998, has been deployed to active duty three times during his time in the service and he said that during each of those deployments his relationship with the Chief continued to grow and develop, ultimately leading to a long professional relationship back in Albany.

“I got deployed to Bosnia in 2001,” Dramoski said. “Iraq in ’05, ’06 and Afghanistan in 2009, 2010. I did all three deployments with the Chief.

“In the military we did everything together. We ate together. We’re all in the same platoon. I can honestly say he’s probably one of the closet friends I had in the military. If there was something major going on, he’d talk to me and sit down and explain things.

“I can say he genuinely, genuinely, exhibited what we call COP, community oriented policing, because every time he saw me, he stopped and we would talk for hours some days and some days we’d just talk a few minutes.

“He’d say, ‘I just wanted to check on you.’ And he would drive off in his police car, and then it wound up him being there through every facet of my life. And now I’m at the Albany Police Department because of him.”

While the positive influence Chief Persley had in Dramoski’s life certainly went a long way toward inspiring him to become a police officer, perhaps more importantly though, it was the way the police chief interacted with the young man, and the community at large, that served as an example of how Dramoski wanted to approach the job.

“I’m a Neighborhood Resource Officer,” he said when I inquired about his role with the force. “It was a position that they had open and I’ve always wanted to do stuff in the community. Always, always, it was just something I wanted to do and when it came open I was like, ‘I kind of want to do this here.’ And they gave it to me.”

As a Neighborhood Resource Officer, Dramoski serves as a liaison between the department and the community, meaning that in addition to protecting and serving the population, he’s tasked with strengthening bonds between the police department and the community.

And as it turns out, that job is right up Dramoski’s alley.

As a native of Albany, who was born in the McIntosh Homes housing projects and is a product of the Dougherty County School System, Dramoski believes he has a good understanding of the issues impacting his community, and as far as he’s concerned, the best way to tackle some of those bigger issues, is by being visible in the community and spending time with the area’s youth, much the same way Chief Persley did all those years ago.

“I know a lot of people still have their doubts about the police and how they feel about the police, but I feel like us being out here is one of the reasons why folks look at us in a different way,” Dramoski explained. “I feel like if you get on a 12-hour shift and you don’t get out of the car and talk to somebody, especially if you are on day shift, you’re doing yourself an injustice. You know what I’m saying? Somebody in your neighborhood should know who you are.

“Even when we were in training, you know me and my training officer, we would get out of the car and walk and pass out candy to the children in the housing projects. And they were always glad to see us. Even to this day we still do the same thing. I get a bag of candy and if I’m out walking I give kids some candy and just talk to them.”

Dramoski told me he feels so passionately about interacting with area youth, and believes so strongly that it’s something that’s it critical to the future health of the community, that he has actually developed a non-profit organization designed to keep young people engaged in school and community through participation in youth athletics.

Currently, through his organization Limitless Boundaries, the long-time athlete, coach, and father has roughly 200 area children who are engaged in youth football, track and field, and cheerleading, all of which is geared to helping the children grow as people and connecting with their community.

“Me and my wife (Keisha) had thought about doing something different,” he said. “We had been a part of youth programs before and I would always go above and beyond as far as if you were on my team, I had to know how your grades were, if you were misbehaving in school. I know we have a lot of single mother’s out there who can’t get off the job to go see if their kid’s okay.

“I tell them, if they call you, get whatever the teacher has for you and then you call me and I’ll go out there and check on that child. I mean some people they’re working places like the (Albany Marine Corps Logistics) base and they can’t just get off the base and ride all the way to the school.

“I’m already out here riding, not busy, so I’ll go by the school and check on that child. I don’t have an issue with that because I feel like they need to know that somebody cares.

“So my wife and I were talking and I said, ‘I want to start a year-round nonprofit organization, something where the kids, once they get through with baseball, they can go straight into track and field or flag football or whatever, something in the spring. Then when they get done with spring sports they can go into the fall. Get through the fall and they go into winter. So I came up with this idea for Limitless Boundaries.”

Dramoski said Limitless Boundaries, and the South Georgia Wolverines football Pop Warner football team connected to it, is really about tutoring and mentoring kids through athletics, which he believes are the best way to keep young folks engaged and likely out of trouble.

“A lot of times these kids they just don’t have anything to do,” he said. “You’re sitting at home, and we’ve been kids before, you get into mischief. You want to kick over a trashcan or something, the stuff you think is small that is actually really big. It winds up turning into something more. So to keep them out of trouble we started an organization.”

Limitless Boundaries has multiple age groups (beginning at age 5) competing in the three sports, with football going until the children reach 13 and start playing middle school football, cheerleading going to age 16 and track and field going to all the way to 18.

And while participating in athletics is an important part of Limitless Boundaries, it’s the personal connection the organization builds with children and the mentoring and tutoring aspects that Dramoski feels is the program’s greatest feature.

In addition to requiring all children who participate to keep their grades up, Dramoski also has each child’s parents add him as an emergency contact at school so he can keep track of them and go visit them if the child is having issues at school.

“I had a mom who was 100 percent active,” he said. “My dad wasn’t always there, but my mom she always made sure if we stayed out all night, she that person’s mom, she knew that person’s address. My mom worked all the time but she knew where we were.

“And I think that plays a major, major part because I get so many parents that call me and be like, ‘Hey, he’s showing out at school today.’ I tell my parents that in my program at the beginning of the year, ‘I need to be on that emergency contact.’ And the reason I need to be put on there is so I’m able to check on your child because the schools won’t let you check on them unless you’re on that contact form.

“’So put me on. I don’t mind going and checking on them throughout the day.' Sometimes I’ll just get a wild hair and go check on them, make sure they’re doing alright. I just think in a nutshell I want to see the community live up to its potential and I think that potential is great. It can be a lot more than what it is if a lot more people get involved.”

Fortunately, Dramoski said, many in the community have gotten involved and that involvement has gone a long way toward growing the program. Dramoski said that while there is some cost associated with enrolling a child in a Limitless Boundaries program, due to the fact that the organization has to supply uniforms, equipment, and event entrance fees, so far he’s been able to defray those costs for struggling families through community support.

“With football it’s $150 but we can put people on a payment plan,” he said. “And in all honesty we don’t turn kids away. If they can’t make it, we just do what we can.

“But the one thing I can say is the community itself has been extremely helpful in making this work because a lot of the kids that can’t afford it, there are businesses sponsoring them. We go in and talk to them, make contact with them and tell them what we’re doing and they’re like, ‘Oh yes, we love this. I’ll sponsor three kids.”

When talking about the support he’s been given by area businesses, it was obvious that Dramoski was humbled by the generosity he’s encountered, especially from a segment of the business population others told him would likely not support him.

Dramoski, who it turns out has very strong feelings about one of this community’s biggest lingering issues, said that what he encountered when soliciting donations made him feel very good about the future of the hometown community he loves.

“When people say that people don’t want to help you with stuff, those are lies,” he said matter-of-factly. “Those are huge lies. I mean everybody needs help. Sometimes I need help and the businesses in this city help out a lot with sponsoring—A1 Wrecker, Quality, Fuller Brothers. As a matter of fact Matt Fuller’s on our 501(c)(3) board and Mr. Jeff Sikora is on our board.

“A lot of our police officers help. Of course my older brother, he’s a police officer, Jerry Franklin. Captain Ryan Ward helps, Captain Angel Bradford, she’s always donating and sponsoring kids. Corporal Jermaine Lewis, he helps. He’s actually one of our coaches. And of course the Chief. Shoot man, there’s so many now and they help a lot.

“Man, we’ve gotten so many blessings this year. We had people donate a whole bunch of money so we could have our equipment and our uniforms. It was surreal.”

Part of what made those blessings so surreal for Dramoski was the origin of some of the donations.

As Dramoski elaborated on this, he once again waded into a topic that is close to his heart, and one that he thinks is key to Albany’s future success—improved race relations.

Throughout our conversation, Dramoski didn’t shy away from the impact race has on this community, and he was very direct with his assessment of the city’s current race relations and what he hopes to see in the future.

“It frustrates me so much because the goal is to get away from the division in the city dude,” Dramoski explained while we discussed certain public sentiment that is voiced far too often Albany. “That’s the goal. I don’t know why some of the folks are doing what they do, but I know why I’m doing what I’m doing. I want to get away from the division period. That’s just me.

“When I was going around getting donations I would stop at places where people just wouldn’t go. I say black people wouldn’t go. They’d say, ‘I ain’t going over there man. You know they ain’t gonna help nobody.’

“Then you go out there and you’re like, ‘Man, these folks have given me more money than anybody in the city.’ The first time I started getting donations I was like, ‘I want to be selective where I go,’ Well I researched it and the first thing I saw on Google is ‘Don’t be selective where you go; go everywhere.’

“And I went everywhere. One of the first places I went was Lafayette Plaza. I didn’t even know there were so many businesses in there. I went in at 9 in the morning and by 10:30 I left with $2,000. I went to every business in there and they were like, ‘Man, you’re an officer and you’re doing this on your own?’ And I’m like, ‘Yessir.’ And they’re like, ‘We’ll sponsor this many kids.’

“Me and my wife joke about this to this day, she’ll say, ‘Do you remember when we had all those kids that couldn’t afford to play and you went and got those kids sponsored?’ She was like, ‘That’s why you need to be doing your own thing, because you’re 100 percent for these kids.’

“We had 28 kids on that team and 20 of them were sponsored. I was excited because I didn’t have to turn any kids away. It was a blessing

“And we had white and black kids on that team. It was amazing.”

Although he was excited and humbled by all the support, and amazed that it all came together like it did, Dramoski did share that it does bothers him that the notion of white and black kids playing sports together in 2019 is somehow an “amazing” thing.

As someone who shares Dramoski’s belief that a united Albany is healthy and strong Albany, I was particularly interested in hearing what he had to say about his experiences and his views on race relations in the community.

And the youth coach did not shy away from sharing what’s on his heart.

“I love the statement that racism is taught,” Dramoski said. “Because it is. I don’t think you just grow up to be a racist. I don’t see how anybody does it.”

To illustrate what he was talking about, Dramoski told me a story about his children playing little league baseball with Albany League Baseball for the first time in 2018.

Last year, three of Dramoski and Keisha’s eight children played on an eight and under pee-wee team coached by a white man. And what Dramoski witnessed during that season filled his heart with joy.

“I like to use (Coach) Dan’s daughter and Kameron’s relationship,” Dramoski said. “Let me tell you, when Kameron comes to the field he’s looking for her. And they just met last year. Kamari too. He was just so hurt when the season was over last year. He was like, ‘Am I going to see her again?’ He always asked about her and when we got back to playing this year [as older son Josiah was once again drafted by Coach Dan], it was like they never left each other.

“He loves being around her, loves her like a sister.

“It’s that little stuff that I pay attention to. I don’t really see color no more. In fact, I’ve never really seen it because of my great-grandma. She never saw color. I learned to do away with the race stuff at an early age.”

And while he made that decision because he believed it was what was best for his own life, he also believes it’s the right way to raise his children, as evidenced by how they now interact with others around them.

In fact, in one example he gave of what his children’s attitudes are like, he equated the picture of racial harmony he sees with his kids to what he believes the entire city should look like. And it’s really not that different from what many of us think about when we think back to our youth.

“Talking about race, the kids saw some boys out in the yard playing football and they stay about six houses up from us on the left,” Dramoski began. “They were like, ‘Dad can we go play with those boys?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care.’

“And they were white boys. They go down there and they play with them and they’re having the best time ever. And I’m just sitting down and I’m like, ‘Look at this.’ It made me think, ‘Man the city as a whole, this is our city right here.’

“And it makes you think man. You go on social media and you see these black and white people arguing over race and I’m just like, ‘Man, why? Why dude? Why? There’s no need for that.’

“I mean, it’s ridiculous to hate any race or any person because of the color of their skin or where they’re from. I mean it’s stupid.”

Of course while he personally struggles to understand the logic behind some of the hate he sees in the world, Dramoski also understands that it is important to recognize the past and understand what happened so that future generations can avoid the same struggles.

“I tell people it’s good to understand your past,” he said. “But not live in it. Understand where you came from, but don’t continue to live there because if you continue to live there, you’re gonna wind up back there. You can’t progress like that.

“I live my life by appreciating the past. That’s how I live. I appreciate where we came from, I do. I look at it like, ‘If this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be where I am.’ I appreciate every single day what my ancestors did for me. And that’s why I’m going to appreciate life.

“We have a lot of opportunity now. I don’t live in the past because I’m living for the future, for my kids.

“I try to surround myself with positive people. Negativity, there’s no room for it my life anymore. I don’t have time for it.”

Personally, I can’t overstate how refreshing it was to hear Dramoski talk about being tired of negativity, as I think that goes a long way toward impeding our growth as a community.

And like Dramoski, when I envision the future I want to see for my children, it’s very much a picture of everyone being together, taking care of each other and everyone focusing on making sure our children are taken care of.

“When I was younger in Albany we had a lot more stuff to do than we do now,” Dramoski said. “Especially in the summer, you know. A lot of kids today don’t get outside a lot. With us, we were always outside. And everybody knew everybody. It was a different feel.

“One thing I’ve noticed, being a neighborhood resource officer, is a lot of people don’t know each other like they used to. Back in the day, let’s say I wanted to go to Brad’s house. I’d say, ‘Mama, I’m gonna go around here to Brad’s house.’ She’d say, ‘Okay, tell Brad’s mama I said hey.’ You see what I’m saying? You see where I’m going? My mom knew your mom.

“And, if I go to Brad’s house and show out, Brad’s mom’s probably gonna get on my butt. So it’s just a different feel. I want to see better for my city’s youth.

“I’ve seen the good, I’ve seen the bad, I’ve seen the terrible. And even with seeing all the bad and terrible, I still see the good that we can do in the city. I see so much positive stuff.

“I don’t really play into the negative because I’m at a point in my life now where I just want my kids to meet kids from every aspect of life—those that have a little, those that have a lot and those in between. And I think by doing that we can eliminate hate.”

And one way Dramoski is convinced the community can take a step in the right direction is through athletics, which he believes exposes children to positive things, including strong male influences that will hopefully help guide them through life.

“I think youth gangs can be eradicated through youth sports,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but I always tell it like this: You take a kid, I’ll say my son Josiah. You take Josiah who’s from the west side of town and then you take Javoski from the east side of town. And they’re playing on the same team all these years. Well one of them decides, ‘Well, I’m gonna be a gang member man. My dad ain’t here, so I’m just going to be a gang member.’ So Josiah goes and joins a gang because his dad ain’t around. Well Josiah sees Javoski one day, Josiah’s the leader of the gang, and his buddies decide, ‘We gonna jump on Javoski today.’ Josiah sees him and he’s like, ‘Oh nah man, he cool. That’s my buddy. We played ball together.’ So now you just eliminated a potential catastrophic moment you know, all because these kids knew each other through youth sports.

“And it helps with a lot of male figures. I’m not downing the women, children do need their moms too, but I think that a dad is just needed because it’s hard for a woman to teach a boy how to be a man. I’m not downplaying the women, but with so many men, different people, in youth sports, these kids are getting a good influence. And they are getting to see officers from a different aspect, firemen, bankers, lawyers. They’re getting to see them differently because they know them as coach. They know them as people.”

It was fairly obvious throughout my conversation with Dramoski—which actually came about when I accepted Chief Persley’s invitation to see Dramoski and Jerry be honored by the department and the city at recent city commission meeting for their work in the community through Limitless Boundaries—that whether it’s through his work with the Army National Guard, the Albany Police Department, youth sports in general or Limitless Boundaries, Dramoski is a man on a mission.

A mission to see Albany become the place he believes it should be, the place he wants to leave to his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve just always wanted to see my community flourish,” he told me.

And as far as he’s concerned that should be the focus of all citizens, especially elected officials, who he believes are directly tasked with ensuring that the entire community is cared for.

While we didn’t discuss politics or specific local issues directly, Dramoski, who coincidentally is childhood friends with Ward 1 Commissioner Matt Fuller and his older brother Jim, did go so far as to say that he respects any leaders who share his vision for a unified Albany that cares for its children.

“Man, I’m for these kids,” he said. “Right now, I'm 100 percent for these kids and the future of this city. That’s what I’m for.

“(When talking to Matt before he ran), his main thing is doing this community stuff and bringing folks together, not splitting them apart, just bringing them together. It reminded me so much of what I want to see. I don’t really care, I’ll ask anybody for something to help a child. That’s just me.

“He has the same vision I have for this city. And I think that’s where we’re falling short. A lot of people don’t have that vision. They’re more for self than for everybody. I think if we have a lot more people that were for everybody, everybody would win. Everybody. Black, white, blue, orange, pink. I just want to see everybody win.

“I don’t care if you’re black or white, if you’re for the city, I’m for you. If you’re for these kids, for a better community, you got my vote.

“And the way I came up, that’s the way I want to see this city, everybody just dealing with everybody. It shouldn’t be, ‘I don’t want to go to Brad’s house because Brad lives in the white neighborhood.’ I’ma go to Brad’s house because Brad’s my boy. Period. That’s just all it is.

“And I know we can get there.”

Although I’ve had my doubts over the years about whether or not Albany is growing into the city I believe it can be, I have to say that lately I’ve been very encouraged about the groundswell of togetherness and positivity I feel throughout the area.

But it’s even more exciting to me, when I think about the future, to know that there are true community stewards walking among us who not only feel like I do, but who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

Thanks to people like Dramoski Franklin—who proudly serves his country and community, and still feels called to go above and beyond—I feel confident that the close bonds I see being formed between children like Kameron and Dan’s daughter, Josiah and Bear, and Dramoski and the Fuller boys, are the bonds that will carry our community toward a beautiful tomorrow.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

Click here to catch up on previous Beyond the Bank Features