This past Thursday, Michael Lembo, the current Ridgewood Board of Education President, was invited as Club ExCELL’s first ever Speaker Series guest. The goal of the series is for Club ExCell members to gain insight from Ridgewood community leaders by hearing about leadership experiences and advice. An RHS alumnus, Ridgewood parent, and police officer, Lembo offered useful perspectives to the club’s young leaders.
No matter where or with whom he works, Lembo makes sure to follow one of the main ideas he learned during his time in the Army; “listen, learn, and then you gotta lead.” Lembo emphasized the importance of his careful responses to emails and genuine connections with members of the community. He says although he will never be able to make everyone happy, he will be able to listen to them.
Much of Lembo’s experience is derived from his community service as a young man. After the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, he organized groups, gave blood, volunteered at Ground Zero, and planned blood drives in Ridgewood. He insists that he had to find ways to decompress after such traumatic events that struck the core of America and the Ridgewood community.
This advice remains relevant for RHS students in 2021. Lembo advises young leaders not to feel like they are too young, but rather take actions to help their friends, community, and the world.
Lembo also taught students about the importance of staying true to oneself. As a police officer, there was a time when his department was praised, especially at the beginning of the pandemic; but after the events of the summer of 2020, he and his co-workers faced much criticism.
In Lembo’s words, “it went from everyone loves us, to everybody hates us.” This experience demonstrates the difficulties inherent to being an authority figure. Sometimes leaders feel as if they are facing tremendous opposition even if their intentions are positive, and such pressures warrant asserting themselves for the good of the community.
On a lighter note, Lembo’s facial hair stems from his founding of “Mo-vember” at the Ridgewood Police Department in honor of family members who struggled with cancer. Police officers can’t have beards, he explained, but they can have mustaches. So in the month of January, police officers sport crazy mustaches in order to support a struggling Ridegwood family or a charity.
Lembo also founded Ridgewood Junior Police Academy to give children an opportunity to learn about law enforcement. He hopes to teach younger kids about the dangers of society with a more sensitive approach.
As for high school-age students, he encourages them to get involved with the board of education since they’ve experienced all levels of Ridgewood schooling. “There’s never a perfect time to do anything unless you make it,” he says in reply to a question about how RHS students can get more involved in the community. Much like his decision to run for board of education in March 2020, the time and energy one puts into something they are passionate about makes dreams a reality.
ExCell learned a significant amount about empathy and integrity from Lembo and club members hope to implement these lessons in all their leadership positions and activities in the near future. They also wish to pass on what they learned to their peers and the community.
Meghan McGorty & Shriya Dani
Social Media Editor & Staff Writer
Graphic: Sofia Lee