T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), the ISJL’s peer mediation program, trains students to help their peers resolve conflicts peacefully. The peer-led-model is really important to us, but even when the youth are leading, they are not alone. There are many partners in making T.A.P. successful – and one of the greatest recent elements is the way we’ve been connecting legal professionals with the project.
There are many benefits to involving legal professionals in community engagement programs like T.A.P., but two stand out for me. The first is that legal professionals can be role models for the students – or, as we sometimes say now, the aspiring lawyers! Here in Mississippi, as in many places, it is not uncommon to find middle school students who have never met a law school student, a lawyer or a judge—particularly students who live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Meeting a legal professional can inspire students to explore the possibility of entering the field of law, and can make the profession more accessible to them; all the more so when we have volunteers who are relatable, because they share the same race, or gender, or background and life experiences. Another benefit is that students see legal professionals engaged in peaceful conflict resolution. TV programs and movies often portray lawyers as adversarial and aggressive; real, live legal professionals can emphasize that mediation and finding a more peaceful solution are their daily working goals.
Last week, Judge Carlton Reeves helped us launch T.A.P. at Whitten Middle School. The mediators had completed a training conducted by members of Mississippi College School of Law’s Black Law Student Association. To recognize the students’ achievements and to signal the start of their responsibilities as mediators, Judge Reeves administered an oath during which they committed to, among other things, maintain confidentiality.
Judge Carlton Reeves helped set the tone for the program by encouraging the students to utilize the program and take it seriously. By administering this oath, Judge Reeves demonstrated his commitment to peaceful conflict resolution and showed students that they too can enter the legal profession as a lawyer and perhaps even as a judge.
After all, like the students, Judge Reeves grew up in Mississippi. He attended college and law school before going into private practice in Jackson, Mississippi. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Judge Reeves to serve as a federal court judge, making him the second African American to be appointed to the Federal Court of the Southern District of Mississippi.
Having the Judge “preside” over our ceremony at Whitten Middle School put a face to the notion of potential for these students, and to the notion of community engagement for us all.
Who are some of your role models? Do you see yourself as a role model for others?