Spring Break is notorious for relaxing, recharging and kicking back, but for two FIU Law students and Caribbean Student Bar Association (CSBA) executive board members, it was the perfect time to give back and make a difference.
CSBA executive board members Jeremy Thompson, a second-year law student, and third-year law student Lisa Smith used their vacation time to give back to a group of young people living in Quibdo, Colombia – one of the country’s poorest areas.
Thompson and Smith went on a five day journey that included two plane rides, transportation via motorbikes called ‘rapids’ and even a hike to reach students in the rural community. They brought school and music supplies to students in need. They also filled their itinerary with visits to judges and had conversations about possibilities, future plans and FIU Law.
Thompson had the idea for the international exchange through his experience with the Health through Walls – a non-profit organization that helps Caribbean, African, and other resource-poor countries implement replicable models and sustainable improvements in healthcare services within their penitentiaries. The exchange also helped to fulfill some of the required pro bono hours FIU Law students must fulfill in order to graduate.
Thompson is passionate about helping the underserved and underprivileged.
“The reason I took the trip to Colombia and the reason I want to be a lawyer is to help uplift the African diaspora across the world,” he shared. “Many Americans do not realize how the devastating effects that stemmed from slavery, segregation and racism continue to plague Black’s across the world. Blacks not only live in impoverished areas in America, but also in Colombia and many other areas across the world. I plan to fight these devastating effects in America as a civil rights attorney.”
During their trip, the team also discussed with local judges the fundamental differences between the United States common law system and Colombia’s civil law system; Quibdo is in the early stages of transitioning to a common law system. They also met with Quibdo’s police department to explain community policing and techniques on effective policing.
But, their best moments were the times they spent with the students.
“It was amazing the amount of questions the students had. They’ve even contacted us through Facebook to continue our conversations,” Smith said. “They were curious about what it’s like to live on the campus of an American university and what our experiences are like as students. We explained to them how to apply to become an FIU international student and encouraged them to study hard.”
Smith hopes to be able to continue visiting developing cities like Quibdo to help uplift the African diaspora out of poverty and challenges more students and faculty members to take similar mission trips.
Preparation for the trip began last August and garnered support from CSBA and the International Law Student Association (ILSA), but it didn’t end there. Thompson got word that one Quibdo’s music schools was in need of supplies, so he reached out to the College of Music and Assistant Professor Marcia Littley who helped facilitate the donation.
“I think what the students did was incredible. I was so pleased and intrigued to hear his unusual request specifically for cello strings and rosin. I know these can be so costly, especially in other countries like Colombia. I read a little about the orchestra there in Quibdo which was recently initiated. An ensemble like that is doing a great service to young people in a city with high crime and I thought that anything we can do to help out is going to mean something to those children. Manuel Berberian from Allegro Music generously donated strings he had available and it all came together very quickly. I am so impressed with your students’ initiative!” Littley said.
On top of the demands of law school and their work with CSBA, Thompson and Smith keep a busy schedule.
Thompson started the Theta Mu Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. in Quibdo this past October and the Eta Sigma Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. at FIU while he was earning a master’s degree. He is the Evening Representative with International Law Students Association (ILSA), has an externship with Judge Michael Rothschild (17th Circuit of Florida), works at a Halfway House with federal inmates and is a research assistant for Professor Phyllis Kotey.
Smith is vice president of CSBA, a member of the H.T. Smith Black Law Student’s Association, a member of the trial team and works as a paralegal in the Pena Law Firm in Miami Lakes.
TerryAnn Howell, CSBA president, appreciates Thompson’s and Smith’s efforts. “Jeremy and Lisa were true FIU Law ambassadors and did a tremendous job,” she said. “My hope is that they will inspire our members to participate in CSBA’s upcoming trips to Haiti and Jamaica and continue to get involved and reach out on an international level.”