Produced by the Department of Media Relations & Publications

Justice Donna Mills: Society Needs Educated Urban Men

September 18, 2009

New York County Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills spoke at Lehman College in 2009 as part of the lecture series sponsored by the Center for Urban Male Leadership.

7 Minutes 8 Seconds

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This is Christina Dumitrescu, a student at Lehman College. New York County Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills spoke at Lehman College in 2009 as part of the lecture series sponsored by the Center for Urban Male Leadership. She talked to Lehman students as well as to high school students visiting the campus about the importance of post-high school education and the need for educated urban men in today's society.



I heard a number just a couple of days ago, that I found very disturbing. One of the governmental agencies that's responsible for keeping statistics on crime and employment, had a finding that a white male with a felony conviction is more likely to get a job in this country, than a black male with a college degree and no criminal conviction.

And I think that, that number is something that you need to pay attention to, understand what the opposition can be about. And also understand how necessary it is for you all to be as careful as you can when you come into contact with the court system. And you should take that as a very serious mind- and life-altering experience. When you come to court, you need to be prepared to come out of the experience in the best possible situation. There is a direct connect between the amount of money and resources expended and a successful end to a criminal arrest.

So, not only are you facing the issues of a racial, or discriminatory environment, you're also facing the issue of your economic predicament when you're dealing with the court system, particularly the criminal court system. And I tell you from my own experience, as hard as things may have been, that throwing in the towel is not the answer.


And as insulting as these numbers are, and as unfair as this process may be, there is still room for you to challenge it. I have to explain to you how you opt out and why you should opt out and not go straight to the streets to find an alternative to how you are able to live in America. Well, what I was able to do when I was able to be in a position to be elected as a judge, one of the things that happened is that the people in the county of the Bronx had registered to vote in sufficient number, that they could actually elect me to office.

What that means is that when they were able to have a candidate such as myself who looked like them, had grown up in the Bronx, they were able to come out and vote for me and therefore elect me. And that's something that we don't always see as the answer, because it may not be an immediate solution. So, registering to vote and then participating in the political process is something that can give you some encouragement and certainly some success at the end of the day.

Why do I talk to you about politics? As a registered voter, it gives you the opportunity to participate in the political process. And you can begin to do that at a very young age. Now, how do we get out from under being the victim? In economic times such as this and even with the discrimination history in this country, under the circumstances of slavery, under the ways people from other countries are treated, we managed to elect an African American male as President of the United States. And that is quite an achievement, I think, on our part.


If you can imagine how the generations before us lived, being brought over on slave ships, herded like cattle, piled up like fish in a can, dragged off to work sites, separated from their families, barely paid, barely alive, not knowing this language, little food and water. And somehow they managed to remain here long enough for our generations to be here.

Our situation is not that bad. And can we take advantage of the improvements that we can make on our own situation? Those of you who are familiar with the life of Malcolm X, can you imagine if he listened to the statistics about him? He had multiple felony convictions. He had very little following. Spent a lot of years in prison. In many ways, a self-educated man.

And somehow, he was able to rise to the occasion, use that negative experience of the lifetime that he had led up to that point, faced adversity under the worst circumstances. Maybe as many five years ago, there was a drastic reduction in the number of people of color in law school and much to everyone's concern. Enough concern that the law schools are meeting around the country about how are they going to deal with the lack of people of color and women coming into the law schools. As you see, we got hit first with the recession/depression. So, when things are bad, we usually get it first.


A record number of law students were dropped, almost as bad as it was when I went to law school back in the '70s. They are looking at revamping how they admit their students and what they have to do to keep their students in school. And I think that the other graduate schools are kind of falling off, as well. They're not as long, or as expensive as going to law school. So, law school is in the forefront of that and where you go from law school.

And because you're new, young, used to looking at things differently, you bring a fresh perspective to the table that is desperately needed. So, this is a great time for you. And I encourage you in your studies. And keep your goals high. Because you can get there.



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