Black judges give guidance to youths

"We weren't born with degrees. We earned them, with the help of others, '' says one judge.

Published May 6, 2007

CLEARWATER - They had purposely left behind the long black robes of their profession.

But that didn't make the six judges sitting on stage at the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College any less imposing as they addressed the auditorium filled mostly with black, teenage males.

Nor did the lack of robes diminish the weight of the message the judges, also African-American, had come to impart:

"The race goes not to the fastest or the swiftest but to the one who endures, " said Pinellas County Judge James Pierce. "My grandmother always told me, 'Get an education because it's something that can never be taken away from you.' "

He and the other regional judges came together Saturday morning to talk to the boys about the challenges and choices they face as young African-American males. The judges offered themselves as positive role models and offered to talk privately to anyone in the audience at a later time.

"We weren't born judges. We weren't born with degrees. We earned them, with the help of others, " said Judge Thomas Stringer of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

When the judges were done with their remarks, they took questions from the audience.

Carwise Middle School student Derrick "Sal" Gaiter, 14, asked the judges, "Who helped you build the foundation that you stand on today?"

The judges gave answers such as family, friends and mentors.

When a reporter asked Gaiter that same question, his answer came quickly: "My parents and God."

Darvin Helm, a sophomore at Seminole High School, wanted to know what other careers the jurists had considered before deciding to become lawyers and, ultimately, judges. He heard answers like pilot and teacher. Helm said he's not sure what career he'll chose, but he's leaning toward architecture.

Many of the young men in the audience were participants in the Alpha Institute, a program targeting young, black men in Pinellas County. The program, sponsored by the historically black Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, provides mentors to teach the young men about the spiritual, educational and social issues they face. The audience also included girls and adults, but the program was primarily aimed at the boys.