Television judge speaks on past struggles in black community

Thomas Douty

Judge Greg Mathis overcame a life of crime and used the inspiration of his ailing mother and the advice of a concerned judge to inspire him to pursue a life helping youth.
Mathis, who hosts a nationally syndicated television court show, spoke to a group of University law students last night about his struggles and the struggles of black youth.
Marcus Campbell, a Hennepin County public defender, said he found Mathis’ ideas important because he focuses on internal empowerment, a relatively new idea.
Mathis advocated working in the community and internal empowerment. “If you’re not going to go out and fight for your own rights, you don’t have the right to complain,” he said.
Mathis’ mother, who had to work nights changing bedpans and days cleaning houses, raised him and his three brothers in the projects of inner-city Detroit.
Mathis was forced to join a gang when he was a teenager. “It was either join a gang or be beaten by a gang,” said Mathis.
He was arrested and faced jail time, but a judge offered to reduce the charge to parole if he received his general equivalency diploma. Mathis’ mother was dying of cancer and only had a few months to live. She pled with him to change his life and accept the judge’s offer.
Mathis did, and went to Eastern Michigan University.
He attended law school at night and passed his bar on the second try, but the bar association denied him his license because of his prior criminal record. After a three-year battle, Mathis was finally admitted.
In 1995, the 32-year-old Mathis became the youngest judge in Michigan history and one of the youngest judges in the country. He uses his experience as a troubled youth to help other teens.
Mathis chose to leave the bench and pursue a television career to reach thousands of people nationwide, rather than 10 to 12 each day.
Mathis said his show reflects real crimes occurring in American society.
Francis Green, president of the University’s Black Law Students Association, helped organize the meeting. He said they sought Mathis because he exemplified a contemporary history maker, connecting the history to the present.

Thomas Douty welcomes comments at [email protected]