I Knew You When: My Student, The History Making Judge

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My current students don’t always understand me when I say relationships are important. I tell them during orientation that each year they should find at least ONE faculty member who can write a good recommendation letter for them so when they graduate they have at least four people. And a good letter is one where the person doesn’t need to see your resume to write it.

I started sharing the words of Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack of Harvard, author of the wonderful text The Privileged Poor who says “It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you and how well they do.” A generation that at times finds it difficult to let their guard down enough so they can be helped try to do too much on their own and find themselves missing opportunities and blessings.

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Spring 2004

I worked at Albany State University from 2000 to 2004. My wife started working there in 2002 right before we got married, because the president Dr. Portia Shields told her I couldn’t leave so she needed to work there. Ironically when I got the job at Philander Smith Dr. Shields tried to keep Adria with her! But we worked there together, having a chance to work with lots of students. This was a time when Cosby was seen as a role model, so we were often told by students we were like the Huxtables to them.

One student we met was LeJoi Walker from Augusta. LeJoi was in my honors orientation class in the fall of 2002 where I learned she wanted to be a lawyer. She was working with me on a retention presentation I was doing so we had time to get to know each other. I got her connected with the campus attorney, Adria Kimbrough. LeJoi would later become her soror when she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha.

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Law school graduation, 2009

I remember telling LeJoi in October of 2004 that I was leaving to go to Little Rock and she cried in my office. She was determine to come to the inauguration so she took her first plane flight in September of 2005 to attend. PSC had a suite for Adria and me at the Peabody hotel but we stayed at our house, so LeJoi shared it with Carla Johnson, a 2005 PSC grad who had just started law school. I worked in to my inaugural address that we were expecting a baby (something LeJoi noticed before anyone else did), and when learning the baby was a girl she thought a good middle name would be Nicole — because that’s her middle name!

That’s how you get Lydia Nicole Kimbrough.

I came back to ASU for her graduation in 2006, and she had already decided she was going to law school in Arkansas, at the University of Arkansas. Occasionally she made the 3 hour trip from Fayetteville to Little Rock and we were able to keep up with her.

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My inauguration, 2013

She began her career in 2009. Assistant Solicitor-General at the Richmond County Solicitor-General’s Office. Henry County Solicitor-General’s Office in McDonough, GA. Chief Assistant Solicitor-General back in Augusta where she was second in command, managing an office of approximately 34 employees, including 10 attorneys.

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2014 with Le’Joi and Kris

While working in Atlanta she decided she was going to get married. I wish I saved the text. It was a picture of a ring. I replied, “Okay.” She texted back, “Doc, you’re not going to tell me congratulations?” I responded, “I don’t know him.” So she arranged for the 4 of us to have dinner at Pappadeaux’s so I could check this dude out. But everything was cool and they got married in 2014.

On January 16, 2020 Le’Joi officially announced her candidacy for civil and magistrate court judge in Augusta. I was surprised to learn that no person of color, and no woman, had ever held that position. It’s 2020. Augusta is a diverse city. In fact, no Black person had ever even run for the position which was created in 1932! So this was a big deal.

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I took great pride watching her speak at her announcement. I always said she is one of my non-biological children, and told her dad once I needed to share the tax benefit for her! But I have gotten to that point in my career where many of my students have “grown up” and are doing big things.

Well, Le’Joi won. She won the primary in June and was unopposed in November, becoming a history making judge in her hometown. We hated that we could not make the swearing in but we watched that morning with great pride.

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Her speech was heartfelt, and of course we felt great pride when she mentioned we were her mentors. That’s the part of the speech where she starts to cry, and Adria starts to cry, and then I find out that Adria sent her a long text that morning about how proud she was which basically set Le’Joi up to cry! LOL But it was a beautiful moment.

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2015

My high school homeroom teacher Stanley Clarke cried introducing me when I spoke at my high school class breakfast fundraiser a few years ago. He has followed me since the 9th grade, and has always taken pride in me. The same is true for my 8th grade homeroom teacher and our magnet program director Helen Carithers. She basically has made every major life event- Ph.D., wedding, inauguration at Philander Smith.

I fear that too many students shy away from these kinds of relationships, people who are NOT your parents but who will go above and beyond for you. We all need people like that in our lives. And as we get older, these relationships remind us that we still have value (it is called generativity).

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ASU president’s inauguration, 2019

So congratulations to Judge Williamson — my student, my daughter.

The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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