Myrtle Beach’s “kindergarten cop” uses art to connect with city’s children

Myrtle Beach’s “kindergarten cop” uses art to connect with city’s children

From The Sun News

Article by Maya T. Prabhu; photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan

Mike DamesMike Dame said he’s always had an interest in art.

He said he had a teacher when he was in grade school suggest that he pursue art and writing, but Dame decided against it.

Now, after serving in the U.S. Navy and being on the Myrtle Beach police force for 18 years, Dame said he’s getting the best of both worlds by volunteering with the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School and Museum’s after-school art program.

“I get to be a police officer and a teacher at the same time,” he said.

Dame, who is originally from Massachusetts and served as a police officer in North Carolina before joining Myrtle Beach’s police force, said he wasn’t familiar with the school – established as a way to memorialize the city’s first school for black children – before he started volunteering.

After getting injured and being assigned to light duty, Dame said City Manager John Pedersen suggested he spend some of his time each week with local children instead of sitting behind a desk.

“I designed a sign for the city and John Pedersen suggested I do something with the summer art program,” he said.

Fannie Brown, director of the colored school, said she always welcomes volunteers – including more parental involvement – at the school.

“And he’s great with kids,” she said. “He’s interested and so helpful. The kids just love him.”

Brown said she hopes to get more volunteers at the school, especially parents of the city’s children that are in the programs.

“Someone who’s good with kids, has a lot of patience – like Officer Dame,” she said.

Dame meets with the children for two hours a week, working on the session’s art project and introducing them to his fellow officers.

“I want to get more officers involved and build that bridge that needs to be there,” he said. “I bring in officers that do different stuff to show them all these different things officers do – not just pulling people over who are speeding.”

After a successful summer program, Dame decided to stay on for a fall session working with a handful of children on a comic book about the city.

“The project is always something to do with the city,” he said. “Like, what do they love about the city? And help them understand they’re the future of the city.”

Brother and sister Jamil Sumpter, 5, and Everette Sumpter, 8, met with Dame last week sketching out traits and costumes for the four characters in the Myrtle Beach super hero and super villain comic book, with villains that throw trash around the city and steal training wheels from the other children learning to ride their bikes.

Everette, a third-grader at Myrtle Beach Elementary School, said his favorite part of working with Dame is drawing – something he doesn’t typically spend a lot of time doing when he’s not at the after-school program.

“I like drawing the bad guys and good guys,” he said, adding that at school and at home he’s usually more focused on playing sports.

Everette said working with Dame is helping him understand what police officers do.

“I learned that police is good,” he said, adding that he used to be afraid of them when he saw them sometimes, but now he’s not. “He’s helping me not to be afraid.”

Dame, who recently transferred from the gang unit to the juvenile unit, said that’s why it’s so important for him to continue working with Myrtle Beach’s children for as long as the department will allow.

“We can all connect with these kids now, be part of their lives,” he said. “Then they know you, they’re comfortable with you, they trust you. And know that we’re one more resource for them.”

Image: Dame helps brother and sister Jamil (left) and Everette Sumpter make a comic book with characters based in Myrtle Beach and pulled from their imagination.