By Ander Jones
By now, anyone who checks social media regularly has become aware of the story of three young African American teenagers, 16 and 17 years of age, and an adult who were cuffed and detained last Thursday in Washington D.C. for the heinous crime of selling water on the National Mall without a permit.
Writer and tour guide Tim Krepp, who happened to be passing by, took the now viral photos that showed three plainclothes U.S. Park Police officers detaining the three teens near the Smithsonian Castle, which can be found in between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Krepp was outraged, “My kids sell water and everyone smiles at them. These kids do it and get arrested. It IS racist,” he tweeted, “God forbid the actual free market be allowed on our National Mall.”
Though the teens were not charged or cited, outrage still swept through social media. The photos were re-tweeted over 7,000 times by the next morning. Raymond Bell, founder of the H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Excel) Project, was alerted to the viral post and subsequently reached out to the teens. “I’m an entrepreneur myself and I love seeing young people having an interest in working for themselves,” said Bell.
Bell is now teaching Nolan White and Devin Gatewood, both 17, about information technology. He told WJLA, “We hope to be bringing them on board as iPhone screen technicians here at H.O.P.E. Project,” said Bell. White, who is entering his junior year at Suitland High School said, “I just want to thank the guy who took the picture, but without him, none of these opportunities would have been possible.”
Bell created H.O.P.E. eight years ago in hopes of combatting the excessive unemployment rate in the community through IT training. “I know it’s not the s*xiest thing,” Bell explains. “But we need more positive images out there that are not just about rapping, singing and playing ball. It bothers me that so many kids see that as the only path to success.”
Ironically, the young entrepreneurs already had applications on file with H.O.P.E., but their original plan was to work at Six Flags for the summer. However, Six Flags didn’t pan out due to heavy competition and so the boys, in true enterprising fashion, decided to sell waters in order to make extra money.
According to The Washington Post, after someone in Bell’s social circle identified the kids from Krepp’s photos, Bell looked up their files, called them in, and the rest is history. H.O.P.E. hosts a summer program for high school students and a year-round program for adults. The program graduates around 150 people annually and places them in jobs every year. Bell also plans on reaching out to the third teen and adult who were also detained.