The other day I met with a professor from a large state university about speaking to his criminal justice class. He told me he wanted me to share some stories about cases I have investigated and that he thought the students would be “entertained”. While taking a moment to process what I heard, I could not help but think of our current climate. In my head I kept seeing images of communities across the country expressing their displeasure with their local law enforcement, the justice system, and racial inequality. So I was underwhelmed to say the least about coming into a diverse student group and sharing stories instead of talking about real issues. So I politely told the professor I was not interested in his offer. He was taken back and asked why?
I told him I’d like to have real conversation with the students about real issues in an attempt to find real solutions. I wanted to give them an assignment and come back for another session before the end of the semester. His response was priceless as he asked if I was sure because this could be difficult. I told him absolutely and that it should be difficult. Talking about a sensitive topic and being open to the opinions of others as we look at where we have been and where we want to go was not supposed to be easy.
Numerous times before the class he reminded me of how “shy” and “disengaged” the students were. I reassured him that would not be the case today. As I arrived at the class the professor took a seat in the front row and it was obvious he was taken back by the student engagement during our conversation. They offered personal observations, opinions and views. They were not shy, disengaged or disinterested as promised.
During the class one of the themes I repeated was that it is the responsibility of all of us to be the change we seek in our communities and country. I encouraged them not to wait for someone else to take the lead, take action or do what we think is right. If we all make a decision and take action to uplift several people close to us we can create a movement and real change in our world!
I told them I know this strategy works from firsthand experience. I shared with them the story of Bruce, the referee from the youth center I played sports at as a kid. I told them I went through a very angry stage in my life when I was around 12 or 13 years old. Most of this anger seemed to take place during a basketball season in which I was constantly getting technical fouls for slamming the ball, talking back to referees, fighting with other players and ultimately getting kicked out of games. My behavior got so bad that my biggest fan, my mom, refused to come watch me play. Things began to change for me when on one spring Sunday, Bruce showed up at my house in a white van. As he walked up to the door I remember thinking to myself “what could I have done now?” He talked to my mom for a few minutes then I was told by her to get my coat that I was going with Bruce. I had no idea what was in store or where I was headed, I just remember thinking “this can’t be good!” It turns out Bruce’s investment in me that day and throughout that summer was a key turning point in my life and I truly believe without his intervention I would not be who I am today!
So I’ll be back in this classroom talking with our future leaders in another few weeks excited to see how they plan to make a positive impact in the world!