SUNY Broome’s Men of Excellence students facilitated its second Lunch with the Law event on Oct. 17 at Union-Endicott High School. Lunch with the Law is a series of discussions between the local Law Enforcement Community and young Men of Color in middle school, high school and college that takes place while sharing a meal. The goal of this initiative is to reduce bias and stereotypes between members of both communities through substantive discussions and activities as well as expose students to careers in law enforcement. Lunch with the Law is born out of SUNY Broome Vice President of Student Development and Chief Diversity Officer Carol Ross hope that a way forward in creating impactful change is by creating space for members of these communities to get to know each other in a safe, non-threatening environment.
The initiative is a big undertaking and requires several entities to work together. Specifically, Lunch with the Law is a collaborative effort between SUNY Broome’s Grants Development Office, the local Law Enforcement Community, Union-Endicott Middle and High School administrators, and students from the Middle School’s “Brother to Brother” program and the High School’s “The Squad,” as well as the Men of Excellence program.
At the helm is the Lunch with the Law Student Coordinator and member of Men of Excellence Talik Farmer. Talik works with his fellow Men of Excellence Brothers (Terry Solomon, Gregory Thurston and Lamont Neal — pictured — as well as Christopher Murray, Isaiah Kablack, Devarious White and Travis Joseph, not pictured) to plan the format of the monthly lunches. The coordination of these events is taken very seriously and Talik is intentional and thoughtful about the best way to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the two groups, devoting many hours to the planning process.
When asked about the impact of the program on Men of Excellence student Gregory Thurston, he replied, “The meeting was full of familiarities and new discoveries for me. The students that I had the pleasure to meet for the first time reminded me of the friends I had in my childhood and the law enforcement community became more relatable in a setting like Lunch with the Law. I learned so much and I am honored that I was able to participate.”
When asked what he hopes the impact of the program will be on the student and professional participants, Gregory explained, “I hope that this program helped students learn that law enforcement is an important career, but our work does not define us totally. While it is important to take you job seriously and especially one as inherently dangerous as law enforcement, your job should not keep you from being a human being. I hope students have learned in a field such as law enforcement, community policing is what happens when we can sit and have lunch with the law, and that is a respectable effort to do a job correctly and increase the trust among the students and law enforcement. What the police must come away with leaving this event is knowledge of the young people in the community.”
The initiative, which began in Spring 2018 has brought together an impressive amount of students and law enforcement community members (more than 200 to date). Equally impressive are the discussions happening during these lunches. The students have asked thoughtful, riveting questions of the cadets, police and probation officers, chiefs, sargeants, lawyers and judges who have participated. Their questions are answered thoughtfully and honestly, no matter how uncomfortable.
Perhaps most importantly, the professionals are building a trusting relationship with the student participants that allows them to feel comfortable asking the hard questions. To see the smiles, the mutual respect, care and concern exchanged throughout these events is a sure sign that the initiative is impactful. It is in these moments where the hope for a better way forward lives.