A Hero Among Us

Local judge receives recognition for his efforts to help troubled youth.

 

As the senior judge presiding over
the juvenile division of St. Louis Family
Court, Judge Jimmie Edwards has seen
more than his share of kids heading
down the wrong path in life. So, when
the opportunity arose in 2009 to do
something about it, he didn’t hesitate.

“The vast majority looked just like my brothers and
me when we were growing up, and I thought that I
could intervene and maybe provide a better outcome
for the children,” he says.

Edwards founded the Innovative Concepts Academy
with a building provided by St. Louis Public Schools,
financing from MERS Goodwill and plenty of help
from the community. The first of its kind, the school
provides full-time education and supervision for children
who have been expelled from public schools—
keeping them off the streets and out of trouble.

People Magazine recently awarded Edwards with its
annual Hero Award, which honors five individuals
across the nation who have recognized a need in
their communities and worked hard to fill it. The
winners each receive $10,000 toward their causes—
Edwards plans to use the prize money to create an
arts program at the Innovative Concepts Academy.

ALIVE: Why is the academy necessary?
Judge Edwards: Learning continues, irrespective
of where children are. If you lock a
12-year-old up for a minor misdemeanor offense,
when he returns, he knows how to load an AK-47,
how to make methamphetamine, how to cook
crack cocaine, how to hurt somebody, how to
steal cars—when you first sent him there because
he was experimenting with marijuana. The question
becomes, how do you want that child back in
your community? With a more sophisticated
criminal mind and a menace to our community?
Or, do you want him back with a better understanding
of what it is to be a good citizen, what it
means to be decent and respectful and what it
means to go get a job and become a taxpayer?

ALIVE: Outside of academics, what does the school
provide?
JE: What we’re trying to teach these kids is that it’s
okay to be law-abiding. It’s okay to be respectful. It’s
okay to be independent enough to do the right
thing. While reading, writing and arithmetic are
important, all the other things that are causing them
to fail are important to address as well. Chess teaches
our children to deliberate. It teaches them that if
you’re impulsive, you will lose. We analogize that to
life. If you’re impulsive in life, if you put your hands
on a man, you might lose.

ALIVE: Have the public schools failed these children
in some way?
JE: Public schools are doing a great job. My kids
are kids who cannot function in a regular school
setting because of their attitudes and their behavior.
Unless a child can sit down, listen and be respectful,
that child will not learn. You can’t teach
unless you can control behavior, and in our
school, I control behavior.

ALIVE: Is the idea that these kids will go back to
traditional schools?
JE: I would like to see every child finish with me,
because if you start with me, then you get on the right
track and graduate. My biggest fear is that if I let
them go, they will not be able to sustain the discipline
they’re sustaining now.

ALIVE: How do you know when all of your efforts
have paid off?
JE: I know that they’re achieving when they want to
run to me to show their progress reports. Whether
it’s a D or an A, they show me that they’re proud of
themselves, many for the first time in their lives. For
the first time, somebody cares enough to ask about
what they’re doing academically.

ALIVE: Why did you decide to be a judge?
JE: My mom passed away right after I graduated law
school. She would always tell me that money is nice,
but it’s not the end of the world. All the money that
you have when you die doesn’t mean a thing. She
always told me that what you do for others matters
most. So, when the decision came to continue being a
corporate lawyer for AT&T or go to the bench and
make a heck of a lot less money, I thought about what
my mom said, and she would have wanted me to go
help somebody. I’ve been on the bench now for 21
years, and I’ve never regretted it.out it, he didn’t hesitate.

“The vast majority looked just like my brothers and
me when we were growing up, and I thought that I
could intervene and maybe provide a better outcome
for the children,” he says.

Edwards founded the Innovative Concepts Academy
with a building provided by St. Louis Public Schools,
financing from MERS Goodwill and plenty of help
from the community. The first of its kind, the school
provides full-time education and supervision for children
who have been expelled from public schools—
keeping them off the streets and out of trouble.

 

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Judge Edwards

Judge Edwards

 

Photo credit: Emilie Graul

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