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From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America. I thought it would be inspirational to others, both to mothers trying to raise single boys by themselves, which was the case with my mother who raised four boys by herself, and also for you who were looking for direction and looking for a way out and a way to overcome the obstacles. So that was the purpose of writing the biography in her city miracle, and then I had a novel that was loosely based on my time as a judge in Detroit, called Street Judge, and that was giving some insight into the inner workings of the justice system, as well as politics where I came from, which is where I burned my bones, if you will, in my career.
And so those are the reasons I wrote those books, once again, to provide insight into the justice system, and of course to inspire. The Honorable Greg Mathis, former superior court judge for Michigan's 36th District Court, and hopes of the long-running reality TV courtroom program Judge Mathis. Judge Mathis has been extremely fortunate, now entering his 19th season on television. Most court room program-like years have a limited shelf life. Judge Mathis is the second longest serving court show arbitrator, and the longest serving after the American arbitrator in court room reality television. Also Judge Mathis is one of only two of hopes of their program from the beginning. As the youngest judge in Michigan history, Judge Mathis brought a common sense approach to the bench. He was known as the Judge of Second Chances, that same compassion is on display in his reality TV courtroom.
I'm Johnny Ohenson Jr., and welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week's program, the Honorable Greg Mathis, in Black America. My first contract wasn't very much more than what I made on the bench in Detroit, so it wasn't necessarily the money. It was the ability to affect change and inspire folks throughout the country by using television as that platform. Judge Greg Mathis is known for his compassion in his advocacy campaigns for urban youth and equal justice. His inspiration on life's story of a street-wise youth who rolls from jail to judge has provided hope to millions who watched him on the Emmy-nominated award-winning reality television court room program, Judge Mathis. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Judge Mathis grew up in the Hermann Gardens housing project on the motor city's northwest side, following his estranged father's footstep he joined the Earl Flynn's street gang, that led him to being incarcerated in the Wayne County jail.
While in jail, his mother gave him the bad news she had colon cancer. That method changed his life around. He went on to Eastern Michigan University, and in 1987 earned a long degree from the University Detroit Mercy, Pastor Barman came to the youngest judge in Michigan history when he was elected in 1995 to the 36th District Court. Recently in Black America, spoke with Judge Mathis regarding the upcoming 19th season of VRD-based television program and lessons learned along the way. I'll put it nicely. I was a troubled youth in Detroit, and most people know that story. I was in an out of juvenile, and my last contact as an adult was the court system. I changed my life as Judge ordered and went to college, and ultimately after law school, my law license was withheld for three years because of my background, even though it had been expunged, and one, my license to practice at the Michigan Supreme Court.
So it was a struggle. What was it about the law that sparked your interest? Silver rights and equal justice. When I first got to college, I had grown up in all African-American neighborhood and published neighborhood, and so when I got to college and I saw the contradiction, all these other kids and college students were living good lives, and almost for the most part didn't know that existed. And so when I saw the contradiction and began to read a lot, it convinced me that I should get involved in the struggle to gain type of opportunity to people that come from my background. Was there an adjustment in your study habits when you attended law school? There was an undergrad there was, by the fourth year of undergrad, I was disciplined enough to read those several hours a day, and you must read in law school. But yes, the first two years was an adjustment. I was still a little rough around the edges and still involved in the little petty things
of the college quite frankly. By my second year, I was a good student and I was leading marches on campus during that time, it was the anti-part time movement, I was the leader of that, I was president of the NAACP in college, so that's the route I pursued and that's why. What was the impetus for you to want to sit on the 36 District Judges to infamous 36 District Court in Detroit? Sure. I worked for Mayor Young until the time he retired, then I began practicing law as a juvenile defense lawyer, because I know that that's where I had come from. And I saw that many of the judges weren't giving out second chances, which I received. And secondly, did not understand the challenges and obstacles that intercity youth face. And so I decided I'd run so that I could both be an example to good judging, to lack
of a better term and also an inspiration to those who came before me, giving them alternative sentencing, requiring them to get a GED. If they had that, I'd require them to get a skilled trade or go to community college, I'd require them to go a step beyond high school as part of their probation. Looking back at your childhood, are there any similarities that you went through that these young people are facing today? Very much so. The only difference is there weren't as many guns on the street, and that's another political common area to be discussed. But the fact is, when I was in the street as a street kid, there weren't as many guns. It was pretty tough to get a gun. But by my third year in college, which was 82, I went 81. I'm sorry, when I went back doing the summer, everybody on the street had a 9 millimeter. And ultimately, what we discovered is that the deregulation of the gun laws by Ronald
Reagan, created an opportunity for anyone to apply for a gun salesman license and getting one almost in the mail, and therefore flooded the country with semi-automatic weapons as a result. And that's what we've seen in much of the killing. I also understand that Reverend Jesse Jackson visited you when you were incarcerated. Yes, and that was another source of inspiration to get involved in the struggle for our folks. And because when he came, I really wasn't familiar with him. And he spoke so powerful about overcoming the inequities in society. And I've been a follower of Malcolm X and others, Huey Newton, because that's who appealed to our community. My brothers was a Black Panther, or Black Panthers. So that was the frame of reference I had for fighting for equal justice, but then later
in college, and particularly after kind of consuming some of the things, Reverend Jackson recommended we read and catch up on that played a significant role. And currently the chairman of the board for Reverend Jackson's organization, he performed our daughter's nubsules just this past Saturday, so we're close, 30 years later. Tell us about the math and community center. Sure, right after I left college, I began by holding career development workshops right on the border of the housing projects I grew up in, went back and used a church to hold workshops, me and a few others, and professional folks that I had met after leaving college, and some I met during college. And then that grew to ultimately, we were getting grants and setting up office space, and once I came to television, I decided I'd invest in a large community center, so we built
a 10,000 square foot community center that has since assisted young adults with placement and jobs, career training, and college, and secondly, ex-offenders, which we have done the same for, but have most recently had an innovative program where we put them in business for themselves, small franchises, because as many know, there's not a lot of opportunity for ex-offenders. So that's what we do there, among other things, and we have the community, have meetings and programs, we have a mentorship program there for youth, and we're doing good things in Detroit, we believe, and helping through that transition. What was the name of the housing project you grew up in? The Herman Gardens, Herman Gardens Housing Projects. Judge Mathes, you were a youngster when the 1967 Ryan's took place in Detroit. Did that have an effect on you, or do you remember that time growing up? It was a tremendous effect, and I believe it had a strong effect on my brothers.
The oldest was 10 years older than me, so that would have made him 17, and I think that's when he turned toward the Black Panther militant approach, because of that and the oppressive police tactics that we saw in our community all the time, and that resulted in the riot. One of the things I will say is that I recall seeing the tanks, rode out on our street as one of the most profound recollections. At that point, we lived all the way closer to the riot area, and the next year in 1968, I can recall sitting there in front of the television and watching fires that had occurred after Dr. King's assassination. He was showing fires and riots around the country, so those two things had a big impression on me as a child, and then watching my brothers move further into the fight, and then after meeting Reverend Jackson and then going off to college, I determined that I would fight
in a little different approach, more of a traditional civil rights approach. To the best of my knowledge, you would author up two books. Why was it important for you to put your thoughts on paper? Of course, publishers approached me initially after hearing of my story, and I thought it would be inspirational to others, both to mothers trying to raise single boys by themselves, which was the case with my mother who raised four boys by herself, and also for you who were looking for direction and looking for a way out and a way to overcome the obstacles. But that was the purpose of writing the biography, Inner City Miracle, and then I had a novel that was loosely based on my time as a judge, and it was called Street Judge, and that was giving some insight into the inner workings of the justice system, as well as politics where I came from, which is where I burned my bones, if you will, in my career.
And so, those are the reasons I wrote those books, once again, to provide insight into the justice system and, of course, to inspire photography in the city of New York. If you're just joining us, I'm Johnny O'Hanston, Jr., and you're listening to End Black America from KUT Radio, and we're speaking with the honorable Judge-Grad Mathes, host of the long-running Judge Mathes Show, 19 seasons and growing Judge Mathes, and what brought you to television? Well, when I ran for Judge, I was attacked because of my background as the street youth, once again, and first time the state bar wouldn't license me, and then this time when I ran, the media came after me, and I had done so much in the community, people knew me, and as a result, I had all the support of the folks who were active in Detroit and the various unions who tried to pick the best candidates, and so I won, I'd be the 20-year incumbent by 10,000 votes, and so when I won, it became national news for a couple of days, there
was a lot of interviews with national news outlets, and then the producers and agents came calling, wanting to look into doing a movie, so for a couple of years, I go out at the behest of agents and producers talking with studios about a movie, and then when we got the Warner Brothers, they said, hey, this Judge Judy is tearing up the airways with this guy want to be a judge, and so I said if they were to play my backstory as an introduction to the show, which would once again give some inspiration to others, I said, I'd be glad to do it, folks think that many people leave to go to television because of money, well in fact, my first contract wasn't very much more than what I made on the bench in Detroit, so it wasn't necessarily the money, it was the ability to affect change and inspire folks throughout the country by using television as that platform.
Speaking of Judge Judy, and you and her have the distinction of being the only two to have hosted their program for the entire run, what makes your program special? Well, I think it's my ability to relate and speak the language of those who come before me and those who are watching, you know, I try and identify and I can have the experience to identify with pretty much every litigant that comes before me because I have in some way some similar background, whether it's the street youth, I've been that, whether it's a parent, I am that, whether it's college educated, I'm that, and so I can move back and forth in terms of relating to people and I guess a little comedy that doesn't hurt, so I think that's the relatability factor. In the last several years, probably over a decade, we've assisted people who come before
me with drug and alcohol problems, we've assisted them in being placed wherever they live in rehab institutions and many of them come back or write us and thank us because of the success they've had in transforming their lives. So we've done that for many years and last year we decided we'd embark upon trying to help families in particular, we know that African American households over half without a father in the household and so we try and work to put fathers in particular in touch with their children, even if they're separated or divorced from the mother, we try and get them involved in the lives and many of the cases it is that there's a dispute over either money, hearing style and meaning custody issues, and then there's the issue of paternity. Paternity tests cost nearly $1,000 if you want to get an accurate one, so we know that
that prohibits a lot of men and families from establishing themselves and so we provide that and we'll continue to do more of that, that's the long story, long, we're going to continue and accelerate our ability to help families at this point, we're going to continue to help those dealing with drug and alcohol problems as well but now we're going to shift a lot of focus over the families. I was going to add that was my next question, why is it important to you as a father but also as an African American man to address the importance of men of being men and being in lines with their children? I know firsthand from having been a troubled youth and watching throughout the projects I guess that statistics certainly apply where I grew up in the Humming Gardens where over half of the households did not have fathers and this was in the 70s and most of us who did not have fathers were involved in what troubled youth involved in criminal activity and as
I look back and began to learn as I matured I concluded as many studies do that fatherless homes have a very detrimental effect on boys in particular because they really don't know real manhood, they learned manhood is super macho since the manhood on the corner from the street guys and it's destructive much of it and so teaching them that and by the way we're going to have we're going to have parenting classes as well that I'm going to ask that the litigants are 10 so that's why it's important to me and I know that the street gang members they go because they don't have fathers in their homes and they're looking for a sense of leadership and manhood to emulate and unfortunately it's these twisted sense of manhood the super macho manhood in which I challenge a lot of the brothers
to be super macho and in the real society and stop punking out and running to the corner because a lot of it is fear of engaging real society and you know that you rid of that fear as you do when you're on the street going to the financial aid office and arguing with the folks who tell you your money's not coming up going to the workplace and up if yourself educate yourselves and learn how to deal in the workplace even when you're not necessarily feeling welcome so those are the things that I try and inspire and those are the observations I've made throughout my years. Couple of more questions Jeff's method once someone submits a concern or case to you all how do you all decide what's going to be I guess good television. Yeah and I don't know that part but I do know that that's what they look for they send researchers around the country because small claim courts and look up cases that have already been filed and those
that have a entertainment factor and both parties agree to come on because we're arbitrators in reality that's what we are arbitrators who arbitrate debates and they must agree to abide by arbitration opinion once they come before us they sign an agreement agreeing to do so so with all that being said we look for folks who's going to bring a little entertainment because after all this is both education and entertainment if you just want regular law you go down to your local court to the end and fall asleep. When you check and I say check in a kind way some of the litigants on your show is there an additional conversation once the camera stop that you trying to get your point across to them? No it isn't no I simply yeah in that case and go and prepare for the next anything that I'm trying to get across. I also want the viewers to come to know as well
or to learn so there's nothing really left after leaving the bench. Are there important things to say? Are there any memorable programs or moments that really sticks out in these last 19 years? Yeah there's one and it was so many years ago but it still is very much present for me and that is I had a young man who came before me he had left the street gangs of South Central L.A. to go and move with his aunt and San Francisco because both his parents had died from HIV AIDS and he went there to live with his aunt and now I've had a husband who was very abusive toward him even though he had enrolled in community college and had a little job and he was 21 or so and his uncle would dog him and tell him how little or nothing he was and locking him out if he wasn't
in by 11 p.m. and this lawsuit that came before me the young man was suing because he had been thrown his things had been thrown out by his uncle because he didn't come in by midnight on a Friday 22 year old and so it affected me so much so because when I began to challenge the uncle about how he should be mentored in this young man who fought his way out of the street gangs. The father was the uncle was this very degrading and demeaning of the young man and so the young man won the judgment clearly because his things were set out illegally but then I offered him the opportunity for us to further help him and help him through community college and then he came back a few years later as a minister in his church and he had his associate's degree and was doing great things so that was perhaps the most impactful. How does it feel to have a street
named after you? Well I could say it's named after my mother that's math is lame it feels great it feels great it's an honor to my mother and I of course don't mind a little prestige from it but it's really an honor to my mother who died at age 49 and I was 17 at the time and she is the one who I contribute all my success to and the sense that she made sure that I focused on my education even though I was a troubled kid I had when I was at home I had to focus on that education and she made us go to churches often as she could and so those are the values that allow me to overcome obstacles once I determine I want it to and so that's why I named that after her the math is lame I had faith and family been a part of this journey
well you know it keeps you grounded that's for sure I you know I'm still called on to do the menial things and and four kids that you know treat me like a regular dad and don't cut any corners as it relates to being teenagers as they were and how they're all adults and lawyers and producers etc but the other part was the ability to provide opportunity for my children to obtain the best it's society has to offer one of the things I'll point out to you and then I don't know what your time is looking like but one short story is regarding presenting the best opportunity that my children could have I have the Detroit advocate as you know it was important to remain in the city as city leaders etc so when I was able to come on television and could afford a significant residence for lack of a better term we moved out to an area the Bloomfield Hills you
probably know of top it community in Michigan and so I was doing a interview with people magazine and in between the questioning they said well you live out here in this prestigious community and not many African-Americans are here and do you feel somehow that you sold out I said no I feel that I sold up I said that Dr. King worked and gave his life and spoke of us living with equal opportunity and I told her I thought that Dr. King would appreciate that me and my family now living one of the most prestigious communities in the country I said I'm doing just what Dr. King would want us to take advantage of every resource and the best resources that this country has to offer I understand final question Joe's method how can we get young people like it or not
that this is our justice system and we need to work within that system and not outside of it well depends on what you mean by outside outside the system to me means that you're still operating in a legal manner but you're just working outside of mainstream your your agenda and your tactics may be a little more militant so I think that's an acceptable way of fighting because sometimes those who we're fighting they will move toward a more conventional change but nonetheless they move toward a more conventional change because they don't want to deal with the militant approach and so I think both sides are effective in working within the system and many instances means becoming a lawyer and defending those who are unlawfully being charged and are also being racially profiled etc so that's one way within the system and also when you come before judge
you should ask for that second chance and pledge to the judge that you're going to empower yourself and stop a destructive lifestyle so those are the two things I think we can do that to as use to enhance the goals the honorable Greg Mathes former superior court judge for Michigan 36 district court and hopes of the long one reality TV court room program judge methods I would like to thank K&T you for the assistance and the production of this program if you have questions comments or suggestions at your future in black america programs email us at inblackamerica at also let us know what radio station you heard us over remember to like us on Facebook and the follow us on twitter the views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or of the University of Texas at Austin you can hear previous programs online at until we have the opportunity again for technical producer
David Avarez I'm John Neil Hanson Jr. thank you for joining us today please join us again next week CD copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing in black america CDs KUT radio 300 West Dean Keaton Boulevard Austin Texas 78712 that's in black America CDs KUT radio 300 West Dean Keaton Boulevard Austin Texas 78712 this has been a production of KUT radio
In Black America
The Honorable Judge Greg Mathis
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Engineer: Alvarez, David
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