#1 National best-selling author, accomplished litigator, judge, and star of the two-time Emmy-nominated tv show bearing her name, Judge Glenda Hatchett dares us to take charge of our lives and to wake up to the devastations and far-reaching implications of HIV
by Sean Black
It was a little crazy around here,” Judge Glenda Hatchett says, referring to recent ice storms in her hometown of Atlanta. “We were really at a deficit for a while, but we’re back up and functioning.” Nearing the end of a demanding publicity tour for her newly released book, Dare to Take Charge, the affable judge reaffirms her serious commitment to advocacy work and to discuss AIDS awareness in time for National Black History Month. “How wonderful and I am so happy to be a part of this,” she says with utmost sincerity. Our first time speaking, Judge Hatchett is elegant, approachable, effervescent, and kind.
For those unfamiliar with her laudable tenacity, her unconventional methodologies, and her no-nonsense flair, signatures of her television courtroom personality, it would take much more than a winter storm to hold back the forces of Judge Hatchett.
Whether advocating for children, AIDS, or personal fulfillment, Judge Hatchett resounds the very oath that she solemnly swore to so many years ago, to administer justice under the Constitution of the United States, while boldly infusing it with the compassion and love of a universal mother. So help her God.
As a judge, she does not tolerate excuses nor accept defeat. As confidently stated in her book, Glenda Hatchett is genetically hard-wired to embrace the gospel of “the best is yet to come.” She defies adversity, especially when it comes to advocating for the rights and needs of children.
She has served on the National Board of Governors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, advocates for children in foster care, and has spoken out against bullying and childhood obesity. She also realizes the importance of proper parenting.
To help this cause, she founded Parent Power Now, a premier on-line parenting network and blog that offers an insightful guidepost on today’s hot-button social issues for parents in these, what she calls, “uncertain times.” With practical advice for home and work, the site’s homepage leads with her inclusive slogan, “We were meant to parent as a community.”
A nurturing family and profound life experience were perhaps key contributing factors in molding this incredible woman. Early on in her life, a six-year-old Glenda Hatchett honed in on the ugliness of inequality and racism when she noticed that African-American schoolchildren were given recycled schoolbooks “salvaged” by teachers as opposed to the new ones provided to the white children. When asked about how this affected her view of the world Judge Hatchett shrewdly delivers pearls of wisdom: “We have to be very careful that we don’t let the world define us or that we don’t define ourselves for the world.” Believing with the faith of a child, Glenda set out to right the world through hard work and a determined commitment to her educational pursuit.
Upon graduating from the prestigious Emory University School of Law and completing a coveted clerkship in the U.S. Federal Courts, Glenda Hatchett accepted a position at Delta Air Lines. “I joined Delta as the company’s highest-ranking woman of color,” Hatchett notes.
She worked at Delta for nine years as senior attorney and later, dually, as public relations manager and was lauded for her ability to remain calm through crisis and catastrophe. In the late summer of 1985, for example, she was called upon to deal with the aftermath of an airplane crash at Dallas-Fort Worth, which followed an earlier one at the same airport, where more than 130 people lost their lives.
“I remember clearly the wave of disbelief that washed over our office as the news hit,” she says, referring to the seeming déjà vu of the second crash, which claimed the lives of fourteen people. “It was a stressful and challenging time,” she says. When pressed by a wire agency about the incident, she answered honestly. “Look,” she said, “I just put my two young sons on a Delta jet this morning to their grandmother’s house because I’m working around the clock and need someone to look after them. These boys are the most precious thing in my life and I trust any one of the pilots wearing a Delta uniform to get them where they’re going.”
She explains, “I answered as a mother and as a Delta senior attorney—my job was to address the questions and the panic of the hour.” Successfully managing those turbulent times, she was recognized as one of the “100 Best and Brightest Women in Corporate America” by Ebony Magazine.
Through a prophetic calling Judge Hatchett was compelled to make a drastic change in her course, leaving behind her career plans in the corporate world. Making a difficult decision to leave Delta, she redirected her crisis-management skills in another direction. She accepted an appointment as Chief Presiding Judge of the Fulton County, Georgia, Juvenile Court. It was now her job to inject possibility into painful situations while focusing on her passion—children. As Georgia’s first African-American Chief Presiding Judge over one of the largest juvenile court systems in the country, Judge Hatchett has seen the absolute worst in human nature.
She recalls, “I had a young child in my courtroom only five-years-old, who was born completely healthy, and her aunt prostituted her repeatedly in exchange for five-dollar hits of crack cocaine. That child now is HIV-positive. It is a tragic, tragic, situation that has so many implications: criminal implications, moral implications, and social implications.” Decisively she rebounds, “Our humanity has got to cry out for us to do better, how dare this woman prostitute this precious child.”
She continues with another heartbreaking tale: “I also recall a little boy in my courtroom who was ten years-old. His mother had died from AIDS and his father was fighting it. Eventually the father became just too weak and the Department of Family and Children Services got involved. The child had come under foster care because there was just no one available at that point to care for him.” Sadly, the boy had also tested positive. “We suspected that because he was so young and so burdened with such unfair responsibility, he didn’t know the proper precautions in caring for his father. Through the bodily fluids and the blood and whatever he was doing to clean up after his father he too somehow contracted the virus. And again, another child innocently infected with HIV.” Sadness sharply defines the tone of her voice.
It is by sharing these graphic and upsetting stories that Judge Hatchett feels we can make a difference in the world. “The more that we share these stories and have these conversations, the more that people engage in these important kinds of dialogues, the more we paint human faces on these statistics.”
She pauses. “These are not statistics—these are human lives,” she says, followed by a heavy sigh.
Not all of her stories are so bleak. There is hope. Through her bold and sometimes drastic interventions in both her TV and real-life courtrooms, Judge Hatchett has been able to reach countless individuals, empowering them to take hold and change their own course. “We can shape new opportunities at every juncture in our lives, if we dare to stop wailing long enough to start working.” This tough advice is what Judge Hatchett feels is necessary. It’s her formula for helping so many individuals derail their current paths of self-destruction and take control of their own lives and futures.
“I believe in interventions of experience. Most people, especially young people, learn through experience not through speech. The interventions I design are all about waking people up.”
On Judge Hatchett, which ran for eight successful years and is still in syndication, one such wake-up call involved fifteen-year-old Candace, whose mother suspected her of prostituting herself and sought the judge’s counsel. Suspecting the same, Judge Hatchett promptly arranged for Candace a night of streetwalking with a former hooker named Pommie in a notoriously seedy part of New York City. This evening of harsh reflection and painful memories would ultimately lead the two emotionally exhausted and shaken women to the bridge where Pommie’s beaten and presumed lifeless body was thrown over and discarded for trash in a riverbed below. Pommie recreated her living nightmare, thus illuminating for Candace the avoidable haunts and the road signs of a complicated and sad life. In a separate follow-up episode Pommie further discloses to Candace on national television her positive status as well, halting Candace’s potentially deadly course.
“I have to give such great thanks to Pommie for the courage to tell that story nationally,” she says. “I predict that her story will save lives and I am not trying to be melodramatic about it. I have a deep responsibility to reach millions of viewers with my television show and I want to use that platform for good. It certainly changed Candace’s life and I believe it probably changed others who were watching that show.”
Her television show often touched on AIDS. From purposely-aired episodes on December 1, World AIDS Day, to arranged trips to AIDS orphanages in Africa, she finds comfort in the hope that the educational piece of revealing these traumatic stories will have an impact on the lives of others.
“We cannot give up and we cannot think that this fight is over because it is far from over. It is my hope and it is my prayer that we really strengthen our efforts in research, dedicating ourselves to finding a cure for people who have contracted this disease and to also find a preventative treatment so that others won’t ever have to deal with HIV. I have seen so many lives ripped apart because of this disease.”
She is as outspoken about her strong beliefs on this subject with her loved ones and peers as she is with the people flowing through her courtrooms. Referring to advice she recently gave to a male colleague who confided that he was not practicing 100-percent safe sex, she says: “I don’t care if she’s wearing an Armani suit or that she’s carrying a Chanel purse—you are acting very irresponsibly.” She continues in a loving and animated frustration, “He was kinda out there—knockin’ on too many doors.”
Her candor comes from her own personal trials. Growing up during the height of the civil rights movement, Judge Hatchett has seen adversity firsthand. In 1954, shortly before she started the first grade, the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, thus overturning the separate-but-equal, state-sponsored segregation laws of Plessy v. Ferguson. Seeing opportunity on the horizon, “my parents believed that I, a little colored girl from Georgia, could be an architect, a lawyer, an engineer, a doctor,” she says. “Our parents’ mantra for me and my two younger brothers was that we could be anything in the world we wanted to be.”
At this young age, Judge Hatchett’s father was crucial in her success. “My dear father, miracle worker that he proved to be time and time again, in his wisdom knew that he could not fix a racist society or a segregated system at that early time in the civil rights movement.” She continues, “I was fortunate enough to have this extraordinary man in my life who was my role model and I didn’t have to look outside of my home. He was in reach. I’ve said and I will continue to say that if he’d been given a fraction of the opportunities that I have now in my life, he would have been a Supreme Court justice.
“Unfortunately, he grew up in a time when this country was very segregated and there were not a lot of opportunities for a man who was born poor in this part of the country,” she sadly contends.
Her mother, to whom her book is dedicated, also provided a great deal of inspiration and direction. “I am very proud to tell you that my mother, who just turned eighty-nine this past December, started the AIDS ministry in my church here in Atlanta, Georgia, well over fifteen years ago.” The judge instantly lights up about the woman named Clemmie Barnes Hatchett. “For her generation, that was incredible. I mean, that is a pretty bold conversation to have. Not all the members were open to this. There was just so much misconception about not touching people with AIDS, not wanting to shake their hands, so my mother started this series of seminars designed to educate the older population in my church. Thank goodness, too, that our pastor is very progressive.” Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Her mother also runs a gift shop whose proceeds go to support children whose parents have died of AIDS. Noticeably giddy, Judge Hatchett continues, “She has done such remarkable things around this issue. She has made a panel for the AIDS Quilt. She has really been incredible about bringing this kind of conversation to the forefront and really pouring energy into this matter. I just love her and think this is an amazing thing that she has done.”
Judge Hatchett continues the fine tradition of solid childrearing instilled by her parents by making sure she continues to be a pillar in her growing sons’ lives, pointing them toward greatness. Along with her mother, Judge Hatchett brought these fine young men with her to attend President Obama’s inauguration. Of this moment she says, “It was one of the most moving experiences of my life, to be able to share that experience with my mother and my children. I just wish my father, who passed away some seventeen years ago, could have witnessed it.”
She continues, “I so look forward to sharing that story with my grandchildren and great grandchildren—just what that moment meant for me. [I was filled] with such pride and such sense of hopefulness for this nation that we were able to elect this phenomenal man who by the way is an African-American man. I think it speaks volumes about where the country has moved. But these last few years have also shown me since he’s been in the office that we sure have a long way to go, that there is such hatred and I think such criticism about the President. I think there are really some people in this country who just cannot accept or don’t want to accept the fact that we have an African-American president and that’s just very, very tragic.”
Her book, Dare to Take Charge, not only reveals insightful lessons for readers looking to carve out new paths to their dreams, it also draws upon incredible contributions from some of the most amazing and stalwart progressives of our time who also happened to be African or African-American, notables such as leader Nelson Mandela, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, poet Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Pearl Bailey and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact Judge Hatchett’s first law clerk as a judge was Rev. Bernice A. King, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. King.
Coming to the end of our most enjoyable conversation, which serendipitously followed the MLK holiday, Judge Hatchett calls to mind a quote from King. “‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?’ I just love this quote and Dr. King’s whole notion of a beloved community.” She pauses. “But you can’t contribute fully to the notion of building a beloved community unless you are super-clear about who you are. I believe, as I say in the book, that our blessings are not for us to keep but our blessings are designed to flow through us to in turn bless the world, and that is what I believe.”
Judge Glenda Hatchett is a mother, a legal expert, and an advocate who is super-clear about who she is. She speaks to us from her knowledge about life and from her heart. She dares us to be who we are destined to be and to do what our dreams demand. She dares us to rise up with her and to take charge of our lives.
For more information about Parent Power Now, log on to www.parentpowernow.com. Visit Judge Glenda Hatchett’s Web site at www.glendahatchett.com. Thank you to Roy Campbell, V. Scott Hamilton, and Rachel Victoria for their help in arranging the interview for this article.
Sean Black is a writer and photographer based in California. He may be contacted by e-mail via his Web site: www.seangblack.com.