April 1st, 2008
07:15 PM ET

Education: Compete and Achieve

Marvin Arrington

Fulton County, Georgia, Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington

Editor's note: Judge Marvin Arrington has served as a Superior Court Judge in Fulton County, Georgia, since 2002. He recently ordered white lawyers out if his courtroom so he could speak to a black-only audience.  FULL STORY  We asked Judge Arrington to share his thoughts – he wrote about the importance of education.

Young people should be given a plan early in life and know that the goals are achievable.  If you work hard and put those goals in place, you can and will be successful.  I am a firm believer that hard work, blood, sweat and tears, will get you to where you want to go.

We need to create a buddy system where we can tap young people in the classroom to help the brother, sister, a neighbor, a friend, a teammate that you can help move in the right direction. You can do it by creating an environment where students want to compete and achieve. 

I was privileged to have lunch with Dr. J. Jerome Harris, the former superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools. And one of the things he said was, "Marvin, there was someone in the Atlanta Public School system that touched you in a special way that started you on the road to success.”

I recall my fifth grade teacher at English Avenue Elementary School, the late Ms. Lois Wright, who challenged me when she appointed me to play the role of the king in a school play. I took the material home, attempted to memorize it, and came back and told her that she needed to identify someone else to play the part because I could not learn my role. She looked me in my eyes sternly and said, "Don't you ever tell anyone that you cannot do something.  You are as bright as anybody in your class and I picked you because you had leadership qualities and I know that you can do it." With that challenge, I went home with a renewed commitment to learn the role as king. I received a standing ovation.  To overcome this challenge made me feel good about myself and it was instilled in me that if you put your best foot forward and try hard, you can learn and achieve.

The second incident that impacted my life was a young student teacher who asked if she could see me after class one day. At the conclusion of class she told me that she was a friend of my older brother, Joseph, who was enrolled at Morehouse College, and that she thought I could achieve, but I had to quit horsing around and being disrespectful and commitment myself to trying to get a good education.

It was the way that she challenged me that made me think about what I was doing, and I made a commitment then to start doing my school work. It was at that point in time that I started reading, turning in my work and being more attentive in class in lieu of horsing around. I wished I could remember her name so that I could write her a thank you letter today. 

Also, I owe a lot to the late Dr. Hamilton E. Holmes who was one of my classmates at H.M. Turner High School. I recognized that I was in trouble early on and went to him and asked if he would help me with my work. He agreed to assist me and was very patient. Things that I did not understand he went over with me; I committed myself to going over and over and over until I had it in my head. Our relationship continued on into college where he was a freshman at Morehouse and I was a freshman at Clark College. Again, I asked for his help in English and math problems.  He graciously agreed to do it and I would go by his house on Tuesday and Thursdays and he would block out 45 minutes to an hour to work with me and I learned from that experience. 

People talk about developmental studies and I don't know what you would have termed it, but I was just calling on a buddy to help me with my work. We need to identify student leaders in classes who would be willing to help out their classmates. As a student sometimes, you have as much confidence in a fellow classmate, particularly one as bright as Hamp, as your teachers and I knew that he was taking valuable time out of his schedule to help me. Consequently, I put my best foot forward.

Another experience that impacted me was that when I got to Clark Atlanta University, I was very fortunate to run into a lady by the name of Delores Aldridge who is now Dr. Aldridge who holds the Grace Towns Hamilton Chair at Emory University. We dated in my early years at CAU, and she said to me early on, sternly, "We can date, but if you're going to be around me, you need to change your attitude and get serious about your work."

She indicated to me that as long as I was serious about my work, she would continue to encourage me. When I completed my classroom assignments, if they were not correct she would make me re-write them until they were almost perfect; and then she would say, "You did a great job." She did this in such as way that she was not disrespectful, did not talk down to me, but just kept encouraging me and telling me that you can do it if you try.

Throughout college I continued to work extremely hard because I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer and I knew that I was going to have to work hard, perfect the English language, and compete at a high level.

Another thing that impacted me was a teacher at Clark College, Willie C. Davis, who taught freshman English and gave me the only failing grade that I received in college. This made me know that I was going to have to work harder on my English before I could go forward. That summer I was hired by Union Pacific Railroad out of Ogden, Utah. I went to local bookstore and purchased a book styled simply, How To Write. I read that book over and over during the summer until I had perfected it, and when I returned to CAU, I took the freshman English course again and passed it. Later on, one of Ms. Davis' daughters said that her mother said I had more determination than any other student she had taught at Clark College.

Another monumental step was my introduction to the legendary coach at Clark College, L.S. Epps. Coach Epps had a slogan that I will never forget, "Good babies don't cry; and Clark does not take cry babies." He was the first person to put into my hands a game plan and that's where I learned that you need a strategic plan in life if you're going to move forward. You set goals and you work toward those goals.  If you work hard enough, you will be successful.

I made the varsity basketball team at H.M. Turner High School in the 9th grade, which was unheard of when I was coming along. But, I knew that I could play as good as the players in front of me. I just needed an opportunity; and once given that opportunity, I never looked back. Stay focused and teach our young people to stay focused. If they do that, they will be successful.

Public Schools 

Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago is one of the most courageous leaders in education. Daley unilaterally closed down 15-20 schools because of the decrease in population; he combined schools and put the resources into a joint team effort.

Many leaders don't have the courage to close down public schools, but if they are not working, then they are not working; and then the hard decisions have to be made. 

Test scores

We put a lot of faith in test scores, but I have known people to succeed who did not test well. I fall into that particular category. When I applied to Howard University Law School in 1964, they looked at the total applicant – college grades, student activities and other contributions that defined the person. I was able to go to Howard and compete, maintain my grade point average and transfer to Emory Law School where I completed my studies. Law school is about taking a problem, digesting the issues and writing a conclusion that leads you to good, prudent answers.

When I finished law school, I made a commitment that I was going to be the best lawyer in this country. We were able to pull together lawyers and defined by legal publications as one of the best small firms in the country.  There are more Marvin Arrington's out there, but they just need the chance to compete in the marketplace. 

– Judge Marvin Arrington, Author, Making My Mark: The Story of a Man Who Wouldn't Stay in His Place

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?  

Filed under: Education • Race in America
soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. PWF - Harrisburg,Pa

    I am a white man and I have NO problem with whatever this judge does if it works. The only problem is that talk alone very seldom works. You can't change a persons mind when they have been told all of their life that they will never amount to anything. I know that first hand. You have to show them that ANYTHING is possible for ANYONE. I suggest that this judge, along with anything else he does, is to also order each one of these people to READ the biography of the life of George Washington Carver, and learn just what CAN be done by any person, even one from the lowest of birth rights such as Carver born into slavery. Then check them on it later to see what they learned, or still need help understanding.

    April 2, 2008 at 9:00 pm |
  2. Lee

    If a white judge had done the same thing, blacks would be calling for his disbarment...I'm of a minority also, however I do not feel his actions were right. I don't think he is racist and I understand what he was trying to do but I think he went about it the wrong way. The double standard seems to be OK for some blacks since it's taken as "payback"...but no one is alive today that was around during slavery days...and to the person that made the comment about the holocaust...people and even perps are still around today to give first hand accounts of those days.

    April 2, 2008 at 6:26 pm |
  3. Tina

    I just want to keep on going

    My kids know how to fish and hunt. They know how to put up a fence. They dig potatoes, when in season. You know what I mean.
    They could adapt if it ever came to it.

    I wish I had a few chickens and a milking cow now. Know what I mean? Yeah, you do.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:16 pm |
  4. Tina

    Annie kate,
    Yeah, I know what you mean. I have three sons and I don't want to put my foot in my mouth. You just never know. Sometimes, it just don't matter. You do all you can and fail.

    It just goes to show how we are in a changing world and our would is not like our kid's world.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Tina

    Jeff, you are might be right. He could have wrote them a letter. He was trying to make a point amd we don't know what the point is.

    April 2, 2008 at 1:16 pm |
  6. Diane Soto

    The judge had every right to speak to these young people as he did. After seeing wasted lives, day after day, he had apparently reached his limit. The fact that these young people shared his skin color is a non-issue. Every American should and must be accountable for there own future. We all face difficult moments in our lives, some more so than other. We, as Americans, have the right to choose to go to school, work, be hands on parents and responsible citizens. Some do not appreciate this and waste they future, blaming others for their misfortunes.

    April 2, 2008 at 1:15 pm |
  7. Bev C.

    I really have no racial problem with what the Judge did. However, having said that, I still think everyone should have been left in the courtroom. I am white and it is refreshing to see blacks, such as judges, actor/comedians (e.g., Bill Cosby) tell it like it is for a change and to stop blaming whites for all of the problems some blacks go through. Most of it is their own doing anyway. No one forces them to sell drugs, join gangs, shoot and kill each other, kick them out of school, etc. This judge was just telling them to take control of their own lives and do what's right.

    April 2, 2008 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Tina

    black only audience....seems unfair coming from a judge.

    I think young people who drop out of school should learn some sort of trade. Lots of young folks have no direction or anyone there to pump that into their heads.

    April 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Al

    I think the judge was trying to do a good thing. I think it would have been better had he addressed everyone.

    April 2, 2008 at 12:53 pm |
  10. Katrina Hunter

    I do not think that this judge should feel that he made a mistake in asking certain people to leave his court room. At some point people need to stop throwing the race card into every part of american society. This was simply a man (from what I ahve heard from hearing him speak since this issue developed) who wanted to say.."look I know where you've been and i can see where you are going if you don't get your act together." If it had been a white judge saying this to black defendants, you can bet the shoe would be on the other foot.

    Can we get him on the ticket with Obama?????? I'd gladly vote for both...and I'm a registered Republican.

    Good for you Sir....it's too bad people have nothing better to do with their time that to find fault in other people trying to do something good for their communities........

    April 2, 2008 at 12:12 pm |
  11. Taj

    Hard work, blood, sweat & tears & buddy system etc are good & works. The judges sermons should be first given to the parents. Broken families, unwed mothers, irresponsible men making babies. In this society the ills are too many. This culture has to change. Even some of our Presidents & their cronies have made bad judgements & irresponsible decisions. Grooming starts with a united, loving, educated & responsible parents with common sense & good value system. The church, religion & beliefs certainly helps. The US is all screwed up from top to bottom. Look at the church scandals. Our thinking has to change.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:45 am |
  12. Tina

    I agree with the premise of Judge Arrington's statements. He also indicated last night on AC360 that the message should be delivered to all people and not just minorities.

    The solution sounds simple – people need to be involved with each other on more than a competitive level. Teachers may refer to class ratios but the objective should be to establish a plan for each student for the school year.

    While I did attend a private middle school at the beginning of each year a review and plan was established for the year. It involved myself, parents, prior yr teacher and current yr teacher. We would discuss strengths, weaknesses and my goals. I was shown the expectations for each grade objective and determined which one I wanted to work for. Did I want to do 4 subject reports or only 2? I was then graded on my progress towards that objective and coached when needed.

    This served so many purposes in my life along with people who reached out and cared when I needed their support most.

    April 2, 2008 at 9:44 am |
  13. Joseph Dehais

    Dear Judge Arrington,

    Saw you on TV tonight.

    There is one white boy out here of roughly your age who is scared too, scared to death. I look down at the desegregation scars on my right leg and they hurt more when the rain is coming on. I don’t want to hurt any more. We don’t need that any more.

    But you stand up on your hind legs, and I will ever stand with you if called. They can break my legs and bruise my bums to their content. But I am resolved that the foolishnesses of our grandparents will not survive us. We shall not exchange politics for conversation. We shall finally, and at last, come to discussion and fairness. Guess I’ve got a second career coming on at last.

    Maybe it’s time for a coalition of the elderly to rise up and teach… hoping for the world we imagined as kids. My best friend as a boy was black. I’ve always and still hope to sit down with him for a cup of coffee. I still do. But I’ve never dared to find him.

    Please do call on me for whatever I can give.

    Joe Dehais

    April 2, 2008 at 7:39 am |

    When I heard what Marvin Arrington did, at first I thought "on my god" then I really thought about it and said "it's about time." Beside, we can talk to our own in a language that they really understand. Mr. Arrington made the comment that he did not want the people to think that he was talking down to them, that I understand also. I don't have a problem with what he did and I wish more leaders would take time out to talk with our youth. Remember, "IT DOES TAKE A VILLAGE."


    April 2, 2008 at 6:16 am |
  15. Jenny Houston

    GO JUDGE ARRINGTON GO! Please, please, please keep up the good work.

    April 2, 2008 at 5:12 am |
  16. Bill Sharps

    I agree with Judge Arrington and the lecture he gave the African American defendants, However, he should have taken them to his chambers or perhaps conducted a special court session to talk to the defendants. He feels the way I and many others feel about the recidivism rate. He simply wanted to know why these repeat offenders are continuing to commit senseless crimes and usually against their own people. Something needs to be said and said more often and loudly. I applaud the likes of Judge Arrington and Bill Cosby for using their celebrity to speak out to attempt to make a positive impact in the African American community. Anderson you are right. There are too many incidents where people holler racism or reverse discrimination just because it addresses a particular group of people or race. From what I saw of the newscast, there was nothing said or done to offend the white people in the court room. People have to look at the message that one is trying to convey and not take everything so personal or racial. I would dare to ask how did what Judge Arrington did violate anyones rights.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:31 am |
  17. Sam Baker

    I believe racism is the belief that one's race is superior to others, or to divide soley based on skin color. So what he did should be considered racist because he separated people soley based on race. I have no problem with what the judge did. I feel that some people, and ecspecially the media, use the word racism to describe way too many situations between whites and blacks. I would also like to know what the hell reverse racism is. Is it doing something because one doesn't feel he is as good as the other race? I also have a problem with the "politically correct" term african american.. If I am considered white ,why is black so bad, it is simply a color just like white. I believe if we don't want to hurt anyone's "feelings" we should either not communicate at all, or call me an irish-german-english -norweigin-american. It might be kind of fun I'm sure there are millions of combinations out there. or just call me european=american. COME ON We are all simply americans. Quit trying to separate ourselves soley based on race. Isn't that racist.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:15 am |
  18. Kristen

    Racist to acknowledge race? Please. It's called being a role model.

    Would we call it sexist if a female judge had cleared out male lawyers and then given some straight talk to a bunch of younger female defendents wasting their lives, dumping their babies in the trash, etc?

    No. She'd be a successful woman who cared about her community and what the girls in it were doing.

    Judge Arrington is probably tired of seeing black guys traipse through. Maybe they wouldn't be there if they'd had a man like Arrington setting them straight when they were kids.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:15 am |
  19. C. J.

    I applaud The Honorable Judge Arrington. He saw a problem, singled out that problem and addressed it. Doesn't sound like racism, sounds like taking care of business.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:10 am |
  20. Dan

    I wonder if this judge did this to help sales of his book ?

    April 2, 2008 at 2:46 am |
  21. Paul Holmes

    Exellent piece, however, neither you nor the judge seemed to acknowlege the definition or the legacy of the word racism. If so, both of you would have been able to pinpoint that this preferential treatment can in no way be construed as racist as it in no way implies superiority.

    There is so much backlash from the majority for benefits given to minorities that at first sign of any special treatment the word racism is thrown out as a catch all. Caring for ones community on a personal level is just that. By removing those from the courtroom who have not had the experience living as an african american in this country, he was communicating to the defendants on a personal and communal level rather than on the impersonal level which is constitutionally woven into our justice system. He tried to tap into this commal bond in order to break down and expose the ignorance of those defendents who only see a justice system and not people just like themselves.

    Type in the word racism into your web browser and you will find the top two responses for its definition to be the following.

    Encarta says, "making the race of other people a factor in attitudes or actions concerning them. Racism implies a belief in the superiority of one's own race."

    Wikepedia wries, "has many definitions, the most common being that members of one racial group consider themselves intrinsically superior to members of other racial groups. Racism inherently starts with the assumption that there are taxonomic differences between different groups of people. Without this assumption, prejudices against different peoples would be categorised as being prejudices related to national or regional origin, religion, occupation, social status or some other distinction."

    April 2, 2008 at 2:39 am |
  22. Dan

    PS: I wonder how the White people who were asked to leave felt ?
    I wonder if they will feel the same about race after that ? The next thing you know teachers will be asking different color kids to leave class ? ask yourself is this acceptable ?

    April 2, 2008 at 2:26 am |
  23. Dan

    What part of separating people by color or race is not racist and illegal in the US ? I am white and have friends of different races and colors, which I look at them as individuals NOT BLACK WHITE ETC. The only real racism I see today is from mostly people who call themselves AFRICAN AMERICANS instead of just plain ole AMERICAN. I think its time to STOP the double standards and treat racism the same no matter what race your from.
    What would our system be like if all races in the US asked for the same SPECIAL treatment as these African Americans groups ?? What If Chinese Judges asked all blacks to leave court room or Native Americans or any other race Etc...? Just something to think about.
    What are we teaching our kids ? It should never be OK or acceptable for any officials to separate by color of skin.
    Something is wrong with our system when we allow judges especially to behave this way, how can he judge cases when he is separating people by there color of skin. If I go to court I want to trust that I am treated the same as these African American groups. If he is allowed to separate his cases as he did, can we ask for a white or red judge ? I think this is ridicules that its even up for debate racism should have no place in a judges chambers. May GOD bless our system. Rumor has it he was Jewish. LOL

    April 2, 2008 at 2:18 am |
  24. Scott

    Maybe, I am just an idiot. But how in the world is Judge Arrington a racist?
    As a white man, born and reared in Georgia, and now living in North Carolina I can find no fault in Judge Arrington wanting to deliver a personal message to members of his own race.

    Hasn't Bill Cosby written a book that basically does the same thing? No one is calling him a racist.

    There is a moral, and criminal dilema facing the black community of this nation – we can argue cause, but it doesn't change reality.
    The black community is in real need of voices like Cosby, Arrington, etc. to talk to the younger generation and remind them that violence, drugs and young men walking away from their responsibilities as fathers is NOT going to correct racism – real, perceived or imagined anytime, or anywhere.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:07 am |
  25. Rucain

    Personally, i just watched Anderson Cooper ask this judge directly for his reasons behind making all of the white attorneys leave his court room, and the judge's reply...................evade the question and start blabbing about his track record and telling everyone what they already know ...that being how bad crime is in this country..can anyone say COP OUT? HE IS A RACIST and it's time that caucasions start standing up and have a spine, since when did it become ok for african americans to be racist in this country?....Didn't anyone ever tell the african americans in this country that color isn't just black and white??????....Take a stand people , quit pretending racism doesn't exist, not to mention that this kind of action from this judge should not be overlooked and regardless of his excuses it is NOT acceptable. P.S. if the roles were reversed and this was a white judge who threw blacks out of his courtroom...Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be on the african american freight train for civil rights justice and we all know it. So WAKE UP AMERICA!!!! THIS STINKS OF HYPOCRISY......and if you don't know...then find out.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:04 am |
  26. George Prive

    Whose keeping YOU honest Anderson? Arrington had you 'treed' from the start in your fluff interview with him. Got it, great intentions from the judge, he's a racist, he's black and you're a lib, When you decide to be the tough journalist you claim to be then welcome back, until then do traffic reports. Don't worry, you'll not see this, your underlings will make sure it's never posted.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:02 am |
  27. Dee from Canada

    How can you not call this racism? If a white judge did this, he would be asked to resign. But oh no, that is how the blacks do things so its OK. Same as Pastor Wright and his buddy Obama.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:01 am |
  28. Courtney Barnes

    I've always believed that the only way we as African Americans will be able to solve the problems of our community is to have an honest discussion about the problems we face and to offer each other real world solutions to correct them. I think Judge Arrington has done that and I hope he continues to do so.

    April 2, 2008 at 1:56 am |

    Thank God we still have strong black men such as Mr. Arrington and yes even Rev. Wright. Our younger black men really need men such as these in their lives because many have never had father figures to offfer this firm, but caring attention.

    White America once again it has nothing to do with you or against you! There is no secret our culture is different from yours. It has always been the place of our older men to diciplince, teach and yes protect us younger ones. This goes way back to Slavery! They must teach them how to survive, we have gotten away from that , that;s why you see the youngers ones saying and doing some of the horrible things they are doing. there was a time they were simply being accused of the crimes without guilt, now we have lost so much of ourselves trying to adapt to the other cultures around us many are unfortunate guilty of a great many things they would have never have done when our older ones took charge of them. When we did allow the village to raise the child, when you had to give account to any and all your elders without exceptions. It is very much needed.

    Besides those young black men would not have received his words if those white men were still in there, they feel that is being disrespectful to them or that the judge would be fronting them to correct them in front of whites.(another secret )

    We still need our strong black men, there's just somethings that a white man can not teach them and they can not learn on their own!!!


    April 2, 2008 at 1:44 am |
  30. Jo Ann

    I appreciated Judge Arrington’s post yesterday and his appearance on 360 last night. Although, as the judge said, he regrets what he did, I can fully appreciate his reasons for doing it.

    I am surprised and disappointed by the number of angry comments left on this post. The personal attacks on the judge are uncalled for. Judge Arrington’s actions were not meant to be malicious; he seemed disheartened by the number of young Blacks who were coming before him time and time again and was desperate to do something about it. I wish more people in positions of authority would have the courage to speak up the way he did, maybe it would make a difference. I am sure that he has been a great inspiration to others.

    I hope Anderson will bring us the judge’s message when he gives it again to an unsegregated audience. It is a message that should be heard by Blacks, Whites, and Browns alike.

    I hope that there are more Marvin Arringtons out there; we could use them.

    Bravo Judge!

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    April 2, 2008 at 12:38 am |
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