By Kevin Beese
Children are always on the mind of longtime Maywood resident Wylmarie Sykes.
From her creation of the Operation Safe Child program with the Maywood police to her que
st to write 121 e-books on character in children, Sykes has a heart for the young people of the community.
The near victim of a kidnapping in 2005, Sykes worked with Maywood police to identify the offender. They showed her pictures of about 150 offenders in Maywood to see if any of them was the person.
“I got enraged and insulted that there were so many perpetrators in this small village,” Sykes said. “I got tired of the crime in the village. I asked myself what I could do to help prevent that.”
Sykes started getting involved in village activities and with the Maywood Police Department, and brought a program to the elementary schools to teach kids how to avoid being the victims of abduction and other crimes. The program also provided facts on what can happen if youth join a gang. She has written many publications and teaching materials on the subjects in the hopes of getting messages through to young people. Sykes feels that things have improved for the better in the area, but that there is still way too much crime.
“The gangs used to march in mini-battalions down the street and harass me and many other people in the village who were opposed to crime,” Sykes said. “Now, that’s not happening. The police have done a lot of good things to deter crime.”
Sykes said the Operation Safe Child program was working really well for six years, educating 3,500 students on being better individuals, but she could not sustain it because she was spending her own money to finance the program.
Known as “Mother Sykes” by many in the Maywood area for her work at Second Baptist Church with her husband, Pastor Wallace Sykes, she is not bashful about sharing her views about crime-fighting.
“Now, I’m kind of convinced that the war on drugs is very mis-focused. It needs to focus on early childhood character development,” Mother Sykes said.
“I am a student of criminals and gang activity in the village; and I see that the people who engage in criminal activity have been deprived of instruction within the family and within the schools.
“If you want to get to the heart of drug activity and criminal activity, you have to go back the beginnings of the person. That’s where you have the greatest impact, when you teach kids to be honest.”
She continues to operate the opsafechild.org website, providing resources for parents looking to help keep their children from being a crime victim and showing them ways to bolster their child’s character development. Sykes said her educational e-books are a passion.
“I think the thing that is unique about what I’m doing is pointing out the power of the good character trait,” she said. “… People don’t understand how much power is in things like honesty and integrity. The people with honest and integrity are the ones people trust. Therefore, when you get on a job, they’re the ones who get trusted and promoted, whereas some other people might think it is OK to steal something on the job that no one will know. But people do know.”
She is targeting the e-books for parents, teachers and students who want to improve themselves. The books include puzzles, coloring books and games for children.
Sykes said that somewhere the value of upstanding character got lost.
“I think our present culture is not understanding the value of good character traits. I see millionaires paying people to lie and to cheat for them,” Sykes said. “I’m not talking about any particular person, but I notice the integrity is not something that seems to be of high value at this point.”
She said by installing good characters in children, they will be more successful as they grow up. It will lead to more youth going to college and making contributions to society after they graduate, Sykes said.
She said so much of instilling character in children comes down to common sense.
“Let the kids see the consequences of getting into negative activity, like if they can see the consequences of smoking. They think it’s cool, but there is the end result. They’ve got to see the stage 4 cancer,” Sykes said. “They get into gangs because they think that’s cool and fun and they make friends and they get protection, but the end result is they get caught and go to jail and ruin their lives. They can’t get jobs and they stay poor all their lives … Probably information is the main thing that’s needed.”