December 19, 2019 Feature

Be the Change

By Judge Katherine Beaumont Kern

I signed up to be a mentor to a Chicago Public School student the same year that I became a judge. I thought the two had nothing to do with each other. I was wrong. The concept of the mentor program was simple: In a community that includes minority students, first-generation college hopefuls, and financially disadvantaged youth, a college-educated mentor commits to guiding one high school student from junior year through the next three transformative years of his or her life. I was matched with a young woman who was interested in law, and, when I asked her why, she told me about watching her brother struggle through his interactions with the court system. In her words, “The judge was so mean. He treated my brother like he wasn’t even a human being. I know my brother made some mistakes and did some things wrong. But he was trying to take responsibility. And the judge acted like it didn’t even matter. Like he didn’t even matter.” My mentee told me she wanted to be a lawyer because, as she was watching the court proceedings from the gallery, she wanted the system to have a humanity it lacked.

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