Judge Hatchett, panelists tackle family instability

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On her first day in juvenile court, Judge Glenda Hatchett, former star of the television show “Judge Hatchett,” was met by an eight year old whose mother, a former police officer, was a drug addict. After months of working with the mother, Hatchett was able to ensure the child did not end up in foster care, but unfortunately, this scenario was all too frequent in her courtroom.

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BUILDING STRONG FAMILIES—From left: Judge Glenda Hatchett, Esther Bush, Judge Dwayne Woodruff and Marcia Sturdivant answer questions from the audience. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“Never ever did I expect to be on the bench and never did I expect to be in juvenile court. I was comfortable in corporate America,” Hatchett said, recalling her days as a senior attorney for Delta Airlines, before she took on the job as chief presiding judge of the Fulton County, Ga. juvenile court. “There are 823 children everyday, 823 children are coming into foster care. They are disproportionately African-American. The stability of our families is really going to depend on how we shore up the mother and the father.”

At the 2010 State of Black Pittsburgh Oct. 22, Hatchett joined other panelists working with families in the public sector. Together they tackled the tough topic of what needs to be done to mend the high numbers of broken families in the African-American community.

“Strong parents mean strong families, means strong children, means strong communities. We have got to support our families because this is generational work,” Hatchett said. “You have to question these (politicians) when they say they care about family values and then won’t vote for Head Start (programs). We have to hold folk accountable. We have to vote.”

During her address, Hatchett asked youth in the audience to share their future dreams. Many of them said they aspired to professional careers in medicine, science, and the arts.

JudgeGlendaHatchet
JUDGE GLENDA HATCHETT

“Nobody said they wanted to be a thug. It’s our job to help them with their dreams. Ask youth in the community to share their dreams. Children who are focused on their dreams are less likely to be focused on mess in the streets,” Hatchett said. “We’ve got to be three Cs for our children: concerned, consistent, and we have to cheer for them. We as families have to stand up and be clear about our expectations. Too many parents have come in trying to be the children’s friends.”

Like Hatchett, Judge Dwayne Woodruff, an Allegheny County judge in Common Please Court, sees the impact weak parents have on their children first hand.

“I’ve spent my whole life dealing with kids. There are far too few beautiful moments for a juvenile court judge. Kids today have too much of what they want and not enough of what they need,” Woodruff said. “We are at war right here in Pittsburgh. This is not a juvenile problem it is an adult problem.”

Some in the audience raised concerns about how to build strong families when so many parents could not find work. Although Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Esther Bush said it was a matter of making sure people were trained for the jobs available, some participants claimed racism kept qualified applicants from being hired.

“This is an especially racist city. This is not a progressive city,” Bush admitted. “The government historically has always helped women. The government of the United States has not been one that’s helped African-American men. Those same folks who are putting our Black men in jail are the same ones who have not provided the services to help them.”

Despite what many of the panelists agreed was an unfair system, they said people are working behind the scenes to help more Blacks get hired. Still they said education was the key to ensuring future generations wouldn’t be kept from meaningful employment.

“The face of poverty in Pittsburgh is the face of Black children. We can’t always blame the systems… systems have never worked in favor of African-Americans,” said Marcia Sturdivant, deputy director, Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Children. “Parents, do not depend on your schools to educate your children. We have to look at why parents aren’t engaged and why they won’t come to school. If their man’s beating them up the night before, their utilities are shut off, it may be tough to come and listen to what their kids are doing.”

With a smaller turnout then last year, there was concern that the message would not reach those most in need of hearing it. The panelists said they believed a number of factors such as work and childcare kept parents from attending, but urged others to take the message back to their communities.

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