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Judge Hatchett: Do all you can for children

It was Saturday, not Sunday, when Judge Glenda Hatchett spoke at the Council of Urban Boards of Education luncheon at NSBA’s Annual Conference in Denver. And no one said, “Amen.” But ask anybody who was there: Church was in session.

Long before she achieved fame as a judge on television and formed her own firm in Atlanta, Hatchett worked as a senior attorney and public relations manager for Delta Airlines. It was high-paying work and she was proud to be the highest-ranking minority employee in the company. But after her father asked her to pray about another opportunity, she applied for a job that propelled her directly into the lives of troubled youths in Atlanta. She became a juvenile court judge.

Every day in her courtroom, she confronted the products of poverty and neglect:

* A 15-year-old boy who would have succeeded in his gang assignment – to use a gun to kill someone lying in a hospital bed -- if he only had known that a person’s temple lies higher than the jawbone.

* A 15-year-old whose gang initiation assignment – after serving as a concubine to the gang leadership -- was to murder her own mother.

* An 8-year-old boy who trembled in the courtroom because, after months of being in the care of the county, he expected his mother, a crack addict, to show up on his date in court. But she hadn’t.  

Here’s how Hatchett dealt with the 8-year-old: She removed her robe, descended to the floor of the courtroom and knelt next to the boy. And then she hugged him. “I was a mother a lot longer than I was a judge!” she said in an amplified voice that required no amplification.

Her point? Children need adults to care about them. If the parents aren’t doing it, the rest of us must step in.

“This is a message for us brothers and sisters, regardless of your race or ZIP code,” Hatchett said.

“We have got to make sure we are doing all we can, where we can, for our children,” she said. For instance, senior citizens should be tapped for roles in after-school programs.

Extended-day programs don’t go far enough, she said. Public schools should be open until 9 p.m., because too many kids go home to empty houses, she said. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

“This responsibility falls on us, brothers and sisters, and I use that (phrase) inclusively. We gotta do it and do it now!” she implored, her voice reaching one of many crescendos.

“You gotta have purpose and passion,” she said. “Being on the school board ain’t easy work.”

During a question and answer period, attendees were handed copies of Hatchett's book, “Dare to Take Charge: How to Live Your Life on Purpose.” Afterward, people stood in line for as long as an hour to get their copies signed. 

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