Regardless of your age, sex, race, religion or even chosen profession, there is very likely a support group dedicated to the care and specific concerns of whatever you’re looking for; and so it goes for Brothers Before Others.
Started in 2014 by retired NYPD Police Officer Michael Burke, BBO was intended to serve as a National Flower Fund, ensuring that every line of duty death, no matter where they happened in the country, was honored with a floral arrangement. If you work in a major city or have large family, it’s often taken for granted that everyone has a vast support structure. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are police departments in this country with a staff totaling single digits; small towns with even smaller families. Michael’s goal was to make sure that they knew: Even when you think no one is thinking about you, WE are. He wanted to make sure that they knew this is NOT just a profession, it’s a family. He wanted to ensure that they knew WE see them. We have met this goal and have expanded well beyond it.
Over the years, we have taken some heat over our choice of name, usually from people who have not taken the time to research who we are, what we do and how we do it. It’s something I’ve always found comical. As recent as yesterday, we have been accused (in this cases by a Reverend) of not working with the community and, in fact, working AGAINST the community. This is the typical bias we are met with where, had this internet-ordained ‘Reverend’ done even a minute of homework on our charity, he’d have seen that we’ve done more hands-on work outside of the law enforcement community than he cares to realize.
“Brothers Before Others” is not meant to be elitist or to put police officers higher on the ‘food chain’. Brothers Before Others is meant to signify that THIS specific charity is designed for, dedicated to and focused on caring for the needs of police officers and their families. It’s really that simple. Taking umbrage with that would be akin to being upset with PETA for not tending to the needs of slaughterhouse owners.
It has always made me laugh that literally any group on the planet, concerned with any issue you can dream up, can have an exclusive group dedicated to their own issues and needs, and not a single person on the planet will bat an eye. However, when law enforcement does the same thing, suddenly it’s suddenly this totalitarian force seeking nothing more than bullying and bias. But I digress.
For our 5th Anniversary, I contemplated trying to put together a concise and comprehensive summary of what we’ve done, where we’ve been and who we’ve touched. The truth of the matter is, that is impossible.
By design, BBO is personal. Different from most charities, especially law enforcement charities, BBO is face-to face. From our founder down, there is not one single paid employee in our charity. Thus, everything you see, everything we’ve done, every event we’ve hosted and even the monitoring of our social media is volunteer; usually done by police officers who are still working. The beauty of this is that BBO has become a living a breathing representation of what this profession is MEANT to be: a family. Everyone that is working on something charity related, no matter how small, is taking away from their personal lives, often times on behalf of someone they’ve never even met. While there are charities that are hosting bigger events and cutting larger checks, very few exert the time and energy it takes to see that those services begin and end with a look in the eye, a handshake and a hug.
Virtually every dollar that is used towards what we have been able to accomplish has come directly from police officers pockets; be it from our members (who are all active/retired law enforcement) or our sponsors who are, often times, business owned by or operated by someone from inside the law enforcement family. This is why it is comical when our mission is critiqued. From the beginning, our members have represented the best of what our profession has to offer: incorruptible benevolence. For example, back in April of 2016, when Cleveland resident Robert Godwin was attacked and murdered live on Facebook, moved by the horror and randomness of the incident, our members raised $5000 for his family within less than 36 hours. We then DROVE that money out to Cleveland where, along with other charity-funded gifts, we presented that money to the mother of his youngest children. I wonder if our ‘Reverend’ critic considers that “working with the community”?
Since trying to properly summarize the entirety of what has been accomplished would be daunting and would likely sound more like a eulogy than a celebration, I decided to speak to what BBO has meant to me.
I have been around the law enforcement community professionally since 1998. My perspective is unique in that I have seen law enforcement on virtually every level possible, sans Federal. I began as a dispatcher for local police department where also served as a ‘Special Police Officer’. I then dispatched for State Police department. From there I worked as a Corrections Officer inside of a State Prison. Today, I am in my 13th year as a police officer for a bi-state agency. All of that is to say that I have seen most of what this community has to offer and have done so from the inside. So, when I tell you that this profession is unlike anything else out there and is comprised of some of the most selfless an courageous people walking there planet, that SHOULD carry a little more weight than the gamer sitting is his basement pretending to be Pikachu on a video game war-path telling you that ‘all cops are bastards’.
There is a myriad of reasons why someone chooses this profession. However, the most predominant and unspoken one is the desire to have purpose. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote a piece on what it means to be successful . It ended with the notion that, “..to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have existed. This is to have succeeded.” Everyone wants to leave this earth knowing their life had meaning. Hell, that premise is the entire basis of the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Being a civil servant is a calling more than it is a profession. While death comes for us all at one point or another and, most times, it is random and unexpected, very few professionals report to work knowing that there is a high probability that they could be asked to risk their own life on behalf of a complete stranger. The American police officer does this EVERY DAY.
Similar to our military, this kind of dedication is meant to result in fraternity. However, the fraternity can be riddled with politics and selective benevolence. Even inside of the good ol’ boys club, there is a good ol’ boys club. It’s simply the nature of the business. BBO has been a departure from that and a return to the days where the term ‘brother’ as it applies to law enforcement really carried weight.
My family has endured a stressful road for the last 12 years. Having developed a massive Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia in utero, my youngest daughter was given a 10% chance of survival and daunting statistics even IF she survived. After spending the first 7 months of her life in the NICU, intubated and/or on EMCO for the vast majority of that time, she has endured countless surgeries. One of her surgeries, when done, had only been performed 1500 times in the country. However, the experimental risk was far outweighed by the chance of her survival. Fast forward to a few weeks ago where my daughter’s latest surgery was to correct a 66 degree curvature in her spine. From the moment that we committed to this surgery up to the surgery date and beyond, my law enforcement family and this charity have single handedly propped my family up and made my daughter feel like she was a super hero. There were notes written and packages sent, often times anonymously. There were swearing in ceremonies and visits from police departments that didn’t even know my family. There were hats, shirts and stickers made. There were visits to the hospital. Members of this charity sat through my daughter’s surgery with my family; AS my family. I’m pretty sure (allegedly) that we had the first wet bar in the history of children’s hospitals. This charity collectively adopted my daughter and treated her as though she was their own. Her success is, very literally, THEIR success. They have done all this while asking for nothing in return and knowing full well that a 12 year old could never repay that debt even if she wanted to.
This, my friends is what BBO is. We are a microcosm of the law enforcement profession: a band of perfectly imperfect misfits in search of unimaginable accomplishments, all the while playing one big game of ‘pay-it-forward’. No one cares like we do. No one remembers like we do. No one is as personally as invested as we are.
In this game, 5 years is still ‘infant’ status. We are still growing and evolving. Our best work is ahead of us and we remain committed to showing our brothers and sisters what doing good for the simple sake of doing good really looks like; and just how infectious that can be once it takes hold.
Happy 5 Years, BBO. Here’s to many more!