Growing up, Cameron Blackmon heard a fair share of anti-police rhetoric: Don't be a snitch. Don't trust the cops. Police will only throw you in jail.
He didn't have a reason to think differently until he met Ricardo Perry, a sergeant with the Hanahan Police Department.
Perry, then a school resource officer at Hanahan Middle School, sought out Blackmon in eighth grade for his club aimed at helping young men build character through mentoring and service projects. It enabled the teen to break free from a crowd of friends who smoked marijuana and skipped school.
It also got Blackmon thinking about his future.
Blackmon, now 21, has joined Perry in uniform. He was recently sworn in as a Hanahan police officer, an accomplishment for which he shares credit with his mentor.
"He changed my whole outlook on law enforcement in general," Blackmon said of Perry. “Every day he sits there and shows me where I came from. … He’ll always encourage you saying, ‘Man, you’re doing really good.’”
Perry is the founder of the Distinguished Gentlemen's Club, a mentoring program that began with just a dozen boys at Hanahan Middle School in 2010. The organization currently involves about 140 tri-county youths in grades three through 12.
Blackmon was one of the first participants. He wasn't a bad kid by any means, but Perry saw that he was going through some challenges. Perry would catch him in the hallway and ask about his grades. They'd spend time together one-on-one, having conversations that helped Blackmon gain confidence and overcome a speech impediment.
Blackmon as a teen made it his mission to lose weight and get in shape. It was hard to drive in Hanahan and not spot him running every day on Murray Drive, Perry said. The officer would pass by in his police cruiser and encourage him to keep it up.
"I always told him he was not a typical teenager," Perry said. "He always had the servant leadership mentality."
Perry encouraged Blackmon to join the Hanahan police explorer program. Ride-alongs offered a glimpse of how officers work. Blackmon was hooked.
Years later, when Perry saw Blackmon in his uniform for the first time at the police station, he was overwhelmed.
Their relationship is still going strong.
"He’s all about being a good police officer. He'll call me several times asking a law enforcement question," Perry said. "He's going to be a phenomenal cop."