“Bring comfortable shoes.” “Don’t be too anxious.” “Bring an umbrella.” “Be open-minded, be a sponge. Be open to information.”

A panel of five law enforcement officials from the Charlotte–Mecklenburg Police Department offered advice to the upcoming delegation of Go Global NC’s Latino Initiative (LI) 2017 Law Enforcement participants. The alumni of the inaugural LI Law 2016 program imparted their wisdom to the 2017 participants, sharing how their experiences changed how they approached their work and their personal lives.

Officer Robert Roberts, one of the panelists, said he was skeptical of the experience before traveling. Having been told that the program was life-changing, he was still prepared to be underwhelmed. However, Roberts said, “It was a reality [that it was life-changing].” His coworkers teased him about his “vacation,” but he he felt it was important to make them understand the power of the experience he had on the program.

When asked about specific examples of how the program affected them, Officer Marty Baucom shared how his outlook on language barriers changed. Before the program, he did not understand why Latino immigrants didn’t speak English – until he met families in Guanajuato, Mexico and realized it takes time to learn a new language. After returning to the United States, Baucom participated in Spanish classes with fellow officers to do his part to bridge the language barrier, even traveling to Costa Rica for a month-long immersion program. As a result, he passed a language competency test within the department and is now considered bilingual.

Baucom also began participating in “Cops and Kids”, a program officers use to engage children and teenagers in Mecklenburg County. Focusing their efforts on the Latino community, officers began building trust and understanding with the youth in the area and their parents as well.

Major Sherie Pearsall followed up her learning experience in Mexico with a more personal approach to building relationships within the Latino community in her area, taking on two mentees – one from high school and one from middle school. She said the program helped her build empathy for anyone who is struggling, which is part of the reason that she sought mentorship opportunities.

The incoming 2017 participants hail from departments from across the state and include officers from police departments in Durham, UNC Wilmington, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg and sheriff from Orange County and Mecklenburg County Representatives from El Centro Hispano in Durham and UNC Wilmington’s Centro Hispano will also accompany the officers, expanding the partnership with community resources available for law enforcement officials. The group will be led by Lorena Patterson, Latino Initiative program director for Go Global NC.

During the 2017 program, Go Global NC will be providing live updates through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #LILaw17.