There is an undeniable divide that runs between communities of color and law enforcement. Movements such as Black Lives Matter have brought this divide to our national consciousness, spurring needed conversations – sometimes painful.
SUNY Broome’s Men of Excellence program helped foster conversation and connection both during its first Lunch with the Law event, held at Union-Endicott High School. Funded by a $10,000 grant from the Broome County Youth Bureau, Lunch with the Law will bring law enforcement and young men of color together each month for conversation and learning.
“Our goal is to reduce the bias in our community and in law enforcement and combat stereotypes about police officers.” explained first-year Sports Management student Talik Farmer, the program’s coordinator.
During the May 3 kick-off event, the Union-Endicott High School cafeteria was packed with 55 students from the high school, Jennie F. Snapp Middle School and SUNY Broome, along with cadets from the Broome County Law Enforcement Academy, accompanied by Sgt. Sam Davis, also a SUNY Broome instructor. Save for Sgt. Davis, all of the law enforcement cadets were white.
While coordinated by the Men of Excellence, Lunch with the Law was the brainchild of SUNY Broome Vice President for Student Development and Chief Diversity Officer Carol Ross, who came to the kickoff event offering words of support.
The goal of SUNY Broome’s Men of Excellence program is to foster community, academic excellence and brotherhood among men of color on a predominantly white campus, explained SUNY Broome student Quincy Jiles. UEHS’ The Squad and the middle school’s Brother to Brother programs have similar goals.
The Squad was organized three years ago by a trio of students, and its goals are to lower the suspension rate for minority students and increase the graduation rate, explained UEHS student Danny Quinones.
Sitting together in small groups, students and cadets shared their hometowns, hobbies and professional goals during ice-breaking sessions. Students were encouraged to be open and honest in sharing their concerns and asked the cadets a range of questions about their chosen profession, from training in the academy to the tough choices they must make in the line of duty.
Some of the cadets, as it turns out, are SUNY Broome alumni. Kylie Kingma has been at the academy for a month and appreciated the opportunity the program represents.
“Going out in the community is one of the most beneficial things we do,” she told the room full of students. “One of our goals is to give the community a voice.”
At the end of the session, the organizers surveyed students whether the chance to converse face-to-face with law enforcement changed their perspective. The results were overwhelmingly positive.
Students said they appreciated the opportunity to ask questions, and learned about the rigors of training, ways to diffuse hostile situations and more.
“My new thing is the police are great,” one middle school student wrote.
“I liked how everyone expressed their thoughts on how the law works,” one of the SUNY Broome students noted.
As the school year is winding down, the program will resume this fall. Future sessions will bring young men of color together with judges, attorneys and police to heal that divide.