Paterson High School Students Meet with Local Law Enforcement to Consider Career Options
PATERSON, NJ - On Friday, Paterson’s East Side High School forum initiated by Principal Dr. Karen Johnson, School of Government and Public Administration (GOPA), and the National Coalition of Latino Officers (NCLO), (an umbrella organization whose mission is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and society) gave students an opportunity to explore law enforcement as a career option. “The six-week career development program brought high ranking officials of Latino American and African American decent with similarly situated socioeconomic background (i.e. living in an urban city, raised in poverty, etc.) to speak to high school juniors and seniors,” said NCLO President Antonio Hernandez. In the school’s library, communicating through personal experiences speakers, including Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes, Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones and Captain Heriberto Rodriguez of the Paterson Police Department, inspired and captured the attention of 80 students for one hour. Facing challenges as a Dominican woman, Valdes told of being the daughter of immigrants who grew up poor in New York. Despite not knowing the American system, she was a first generation to attend college. In 2009, Valdes became New Jersey’s First Latina County Prosecutor and First U.S. Lead Prosecutor of Dominican Ancestry. “There was so much talent and potential in the room, I hope that they saw reflections of themselves in my story and that it resonated with some of their experiences,” Valdes said. “This is an amazing beginning to what we hope to be a continuing program between law enforcements and students. I look forward to working with Eastside, placing some of these aspiring young students in my office and exposing them to all things law enforcement offers."
Rodriguez said his experience "driving while Spanish" outside of Paterson on Getty Avenue encouraged his police career. “Never being in any trouble, I knew I was going to sit there quietly. When the officer asked his partner to see if there is any graffiti, I’m thinking I’m going to jail, for something someone else did. Luckily there was none. I swore I would not accept that happening to anyone, he said. "My parents didn’t, have money, weren’t connected and I didn’t live in the best neighborhoods. I thought having a bedroom was huge. I wasn’t a genius, but determined I will succeed.” Describing his own Paterson "wrong neighborhood" incident, Jones passed on his police encounter in Eastside Park. “It hit me to the core of my soul because I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. That lasting memory he says turned into something positive. “I now live on that street. What waits for you is opportunity, unlike anything I knew or I ever saw. My parents said you could be president, somebody like me said you can be if you choose. Stay the course make a plan, but get rid of excuses. If we haven’t considered law enforcement until now, it’s because we didn’t know they are just like us.” School ended at noon for Senior Melinda Hernandez, already pursuing a law enforcement career but she decided to stay for the forum. “Something about today helped me, and I liked that a lot. I was impressed with the stories, all similar to us. I go through the same things; especially using my downfalls as excuses,” she said. “I hope I get an internship and everything goes well.” “I think that the tide has turned," Johnson said. "I don’t think students are afraid of police officers, I think they see it as a possible career. The city of Paterson will be a lot better off. Don’t forget, kids in this building have police officers here every single day and working together they see police officers in a different light. The majority of those police officers are either Eastside, Kennedy, Tech or Don Bosco graduates and students see there could be a future for them in law in enforcement. Now I want them to go home, talk it over with their families and parents to see if law enforcement is a possibility for them.”