Judge Greg Mathis understands both sides of the criminal justice system. For more than 10 years, the street thug-turned-judge has used his nationally syndicated, award-winning court TV show to inject his no-holds-barred social, political—and oftentimes humorous—commentary. And today, the 48-year-old judge continues to use his courtroom as a platform to share his inspiring story of hardship and personal triumph with people of all ages and backgrounds, but especially those young men and women who need to turn their lives around. His only hope is that they listen.
The Detroit native and married father of four is also an accomplished author; his book, Street Judge (Strebor Books; $24), casts him as the main character, forced to straddle both sides of the law. In addition, he’s co-founder of Young Adults Asserting Themselves (Y.A.A.T.), a nonprofit organization that provides youth ages 17 to 25 with career and job training and college enrollment assistance. Black Enterprise caught up with the judge to have a conversation on what he really thinks about the “system” he works to keep troubled youth out of and why he feels obligated to help.
You deal with young men and women all the time in your courtroom. What is the underlying message you continually try to instill in them, especially black males?
The system is there to trap and destroy you. The best way to avoid the trap is to avoid self-destructive behavior that would lead you there.
For those who do find themselves in trouble with the law, who’s to blame and where does the problem begin?
The problems we see in our communities begin with fatherless and impoverished households that are deluged with drugs and guns. Eighty percent of fatherless boys end up in the system. We [black males] are disproportionately impoverished and live in more drug and crime infested areas.
What is the solution?
Strengthen the education system in our communities, focus on the development of black males, and instill proper manhood values in them. Besides that, a massive job training program needs to be created. Many black men run from their family obligations because they feel ashamed that they are unable to care for their family as society says they should. It emasculates them so they decide not to stay in the same household. Many of them run to drugs and alcohol to soothe the pain and end up abandoning their children. And the current economic condition in our country doesn’t help either because it’s preventing unskilled workers from getting jobs; they’re competing with educated people for those jobs once held by the working class. With the country in a recession, many programs geared toward developing youth may be cut across the board.
How often do you see programs that can help change their lives fall by the wayside?
Every day. Young men and women want to change. They look for opportunities to turn their lives around, but can’t find them. They don’t know where to turn or what to do. When I got my GED, I didn’t know what to do. I applied