Kendrick Serratos wanted to be a cop since he was little. On Friday, the 14-year-old took a first step toward that goal -- by playing a delinquent on stage.
Kendrick and fellow Southridge High student Gerardo Fernandez played a pair of teens who get busted for stealing beer and smoking pot in a skit performed at Columbia Basin College.
The guys putting the cuffs on them weren't actors, though -- they were among the 70 volunteers from legal and law enforcement professions who had come to educate students about their careers.
The ninth annual Youth and Justice Forum brought more than 200 students to Pasco's Gjerde Center. The forum was open to any student from Educational Service District 123, which covers the southeast part of Washington from Prosser to Connell.
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The Washington Minority and Justice Commission, which exists to erase racial and ethnic bias in the court system, was one of the main sponsors of the event, but the forum reached out to more than the ethnic minority students.
"It's for any student who is interested in a career in the justice system," said Sal Mendoza, a Kennewick attorney and one of the main organizers.
Students had to apply for a spot at the free event featuring judges, lawyers, police, court stenographers and interpreters. Interest was strong -- organizers had to turn away 50 to 100 kids who sent in their forms too late, Mendoza said.
The daylong event featured workshops and talks by legal professionals, and a couple of speeches by high-ranking lawyers.
Mid-morning, State Attorney General Rob McKenna spoke to the students from the CBC stage. And a few hours before, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave the opening speech on a video screen in the auditorium.
Mendoza flew to Washington, D.C., to record her earlier this year. "It took two years to get that done," he said with a grin. "Emails, letters, phone calls and being told, 'No.' But I wanted the kids to start thinking bigger."
That also was the intent of a group of legal pros who spoke about how they made it to their well-paid jobs from humble beginnings.
Kennewick attorney Gloria Ochoa told the crowd that her parents were farmworkers while she was growing up in Pasco. She went to CBC and Washington State University Tri-Cities while working full-time jobs and being a single mom.
She had always dreamed of going to law school at Gonzaga University, she said. Ochoa ended up at the University of Idaho, because it was cheaper and they had day care for her child.
It was a struggle, but she is been a successful attorney for 10 years now, she said.
Next year, Ochoa is going to Gonzaga -- as an adjunct law professor.
Tales like hers struck a chord with the students.
"I'm really low-income," said Topacio Guajardo, a senior at Othello High School. "They were telling a story on our level -- if you actually try, you can get there."
Kendrick and Gerardo, the two students playing the bad guys in the skit, said they would be the first in their families to go into law enforcement.
Kendrick's parents work in the fields and never had the opportunities he has now, he said. Even though the work he is choosing could be dangerous, "They're happy about the choice I'm making," Kendrick said.
Gerardo, a senior who is going to CBC next year for a criminal justice degree, said he thinks about the danger, too. But any fears he might have are outweighed by conviction.
"If I can be helping a good cause, that'd be cool," Gerardo said.