Addressing a climate of racial bias by police and police shootings, protests and investigations across the United States, Montclair State University recently engaged 150 high school and college students in conversations and lessons about race, racism and policing in our country.
“Being Black/Brown in Blue: A Law and Law Enforcement Careers and Community Conference” on Friday, October 13 focused on the challenges between communities of color and the law, encouraged student activism and leadership and provided insight for students considering careers in policing and law. It was presented by the University’s Future College Graduate Academy and Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF).
“The tragic killings of unarmed Black citizens underscores the urgent need for reform, healing and collaborative solutions,” says Daniel Jean, assistant provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success. “While mistrust and fear is present between the communities of color and the law, we cannot let the disconnect persist. Trust begins by recognizing our shared humanity and the creation of an equitable law system.”
Co-organized by EOF Counselor Tatiá M. Haywood, the conference provided space for students to engage in honest, transparent and thoughtful discussions with police and lawyers about the concerns that communities of color have with law enforcement.
“Historically, students have been influential agents of change so providing opportunities where they can engage in meaningful dialogue with lawyers and law enforcement officers is paramount for the healing, reform and collaborative solutions that are needed to foster positive change,” Haywood says.
Keynote speaker Lester Taylor ’97, a business and education lawyer, former East Orange mayor and board member on the University Foundation, Montclair’s educational philanthropy arm, addressed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action, which curbs race-conscious college admissions.
The decision, Taylor said, “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions … and cements a superficial role of color blindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”
Panelists shared their experiences in law and policing. Asked by the students about their take on criticism of law enforcement in the media, Washington, D.C., Detective Sgt. Manuelle Duvall responded, “I welcome the criticism. I welcome dialogue. We may disagree on certain things and that’s OK. But let’s have a dialogue and work on the differences and move on from there. I think that’s our responsibility.”
“It’s important that students receive opportunities like this one to sit down and interface with law enforcement professionals, and particularly law enforcement professionals who look just like them, who come from their community with that lived experience,” said Justice Studies Associate Professor Jason Williams, who moderated a panel of Black and brown officers.
With more than half the students in attendance saying they plan to enter law or law enforcement, the conference presented career and internship opportunities for new recruits. A NJ Spotlight News segment – “Law enforcement careers pitched to Black and brown students” – explored the conference’s focus on the role of diversity in law enforcement and why representation matters.
“If you’re going to change the narrative, you need to become part of the solution,” said Reggie Wright Jr., a former professional basketball player, who empowered students by sharing what it means to “grind” and work hard to overcome adversity. “If you have the right attitude, if you discipline yourself, if you work hard, I promise you the impossible is possible. Chase purpose.”
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos by John J. LaRosa
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