She suffered abuse as a child. Now she's a cop dedicated to making kids' lives better.

Proof that a traumatic past does not have to dictate your future.

As a child, Lakesha Burton had dreams of becoming an Olympic runner — but life took her on another course.

It had nothing to do with her athletic abilities: She was faster than all the boys in elementary school, and her coach told her she had definite promise.

Her dream was derailed because she was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was only 11 years old.


The negative emotions she experienced as a result took her down a dark path that led to drugs and various delinquencies. Eventually she got pregnant at the age of 14.

"I purposefully got pregnant because I thought that might end my abuse," Burton admits.

Image via Christian Haugen/Flickr.

But the abuse didn't end. When her stepfather attempted it in front of her baby, she decided she had to take her and leave home.

She stayed at a friend's house that first night and woke up to the police who had been called by her friend's mother.  

According to Burton, one of the officers named Victor Jefferson kneeled down, hugged her, and said, "I believe you. And I’m going to make sure this man never touches you again."

Her stepfather was arrested, but the charges against him were dropped. This fueled Burton's downward spiral, and soon enough, she was on the verge of suicide.

Thankfully, after a revelatory experience at church, Burton was inspired to turn her life around.

Image via Alejandra Rdguez/Flickr.

Praying at a local church revival helped her feel relief from her emotional pain for the first time. She decided then and there that she'd dedicate her life to helping others.

She went back to school, and joined the Jacksonville, Florida, Police Athletic League (PAL). There, she started playing basketball there regularly.

PALs exist all over the country and aim to foster positive relationships between police officers and kids in the community through various programs.

Burton with kids at PAL. All photos below via the Jacksonville, Florida, PAL.

Her basketball training at PAL led to her landing a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida, where she got her degree in criminal justice.

She chose this major because she wanted to bring all child molesters to justice. "I wanted to be that police officer that responds and treats victims with dignity," Burton says. And that's exactly who she became.

In her time working for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, she's already put several child molesters in jail.

She also managed to track down and thank the officer who initially offered her comfort after her own traumatic experience years before.

"You are my angel; you changed my life," she told him.

Two years ago, she returned to PAL as an officer intent on giving something back to kids who might be struggling.

Burton on the job at the Jacksonville PAL.

Because she had a difficult childhood, she thought the kids would be able to relate and open up to her.  If kids are opening up about their issues, she says, there's a chance more traumatic incidents will be prevented.

She once spoke with two girls at PAL about low self-esteem, and when she told them she struggles with it too sometimes, they started crying. She asked them, "What can I do to help you see your value?" They replied, "Can we have a slumber party?"

So, Burton began organizing a massive slumber party for 200 girls at her PAL, and it was so successful, they do it every year now.

Some of the teen girls at the Jacksonville PAL with Burton.

This past year, they even organized a surprise flash mob for them. After one sleepover, a girl came up to Burton and said, "Oh my gosh, we didn’t know police officers were cool!"

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this matters,'" Burton exclaimed.

Today, as PAL's executive director, Burton is spearheading many community-building initiatives.

Burton's Lunch with a PAL initiative in full swing.

She established a program called Mobile PAL, which takes all the relationship-building activities PAL practices indoors onto the streets of Jacksonville.

"There’s a lot of enforcement in the low-income areas," Burton explained. "Younger people don’t know how to process that. So Mobile PAL goes out and engages them with fun activities. It allows kids to humanize police officers."

She even contacted local restaurants to help her launch the program Lunch with a PAL where kids can have a free meal with officers and talk about anything.

Burton organizing a game through Mobile PAL.

According to PAL's most recent impact report, 100% of students in the program were free from physical harm and arrest.

Ninety-seven percent matriculated into the next grade at school.

The organization is helping kids better themselves and feel more connected to police officers. The officers are doing all they can to show kids there are many who want to be there for them.  So far, it seems to be working.

PAL has programs in cities all over the country. You can learn more about the organization as a whole here, including learning how to start your own, and finding your local PAL. If you're a child going through something, you don't have to do it alone. Officers at PALs around the country are here to help.

Update 7/21/2017: Minor points of this story were changed for clarity.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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