2/21/19 Judge Larry Brown Jr. speaks at Woodlawn Middle
|Stay in school, out of court|
Photos by Woody Marshall / Times-News
Alamance County District Court Judge Larry Brown hugs a tearful Woodlawn Middle School eighth-grader Steffany Vazquez after speaking to all the school’s eighth-graders Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. “It really touched my heart,” Vazquez said after hearing Brown’s story of one of his high school coaches telling him he would be flipping burgers when he finished school.
Judge Larry Brown Jr. speaks at Woodlawn Middle
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 2/21/19
Reprinted with permission.
Alamance County District Court Judge Larry Brown gives a Woodlawn Middle School eighth-grader a five dollar bill after she answered his question during his talk at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
MEBANE — District Court Judge Larry Brown Jr. dished out wisdom and five-spots Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Woodlawn Middle School.
After singing a few bars of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” Brown held up his smartphone and said, “Young people, the things you are doing on this phone are blowing my mind.”
The majority — if not all — of the eighth-graders in the room knew what “sexting” meant. And many of the girls seemed well-versed in the lies boys tell to get them to send nude photos.
One student said boys often play the “I love you” card to guilt them into it.
When Brown asked her, “Do they promise to keep it to themselves?” girls in the room shouted, “Yes!” And when he asked, “Do they do that?” girls in the room shouted, “No!”
When students answered his questions correctly, Brown handed them five dollar bills (“You get paid for what you know, not what you think,” he said) to encourage participation. It worked.
“I love having fun, but this thing right here is serious for me,” Brown said, “because, ladies, in less than five seconds, imagine a hundred little boys having a picture of your naked body. … Imagine not being able to go to Woodlawn Middle School because you walk in every day and everybody has your picture.”
Though Snapchat photos are accessible only for a limited amount of time, Brown warned that users can take screenshots and save the photos to their phones. He’s seen teens’ lives ruined by fake social media accounts sharing their naked pictures with the world.
“This cyberbullying stuff is real,” he said.
It’s also illegal, and only a few students in the crowd knew that criminals can be charged as adults at 16 years old, rather than 18, in North Carolina. That leads to criminal records, which lead to lifelong judgment and a long, difficult road in terms of finding employment.
“Don’t get in trouble,” Brown said.
Having grown up poor in Baltimore, Brown said, his own path to success wasn’t easy, and he’s a living, breathing example of the success that can come from hard work.
The Henderson native became the first African-American to serve as a jurist in Alamance County when he took oath in October 2017. And prior to that, he served as a private practice attorney and the lead domestic violence and juvenile case prosecutor under District Attorneys Rob Johnson and Pat Nadolski.
He told students he knew he wanted to be an attorney when he was 8 years old, and the decisions that led him to achieving his dream began when he was their age.
“I couldn’t get in trouble, and I couldn’t get bad grades,” he said. “It starts right now. Your success starts right now.”
One student asked whether there had been any roadblocks along the way.
“The more people told me I couldn’t do something, the harder I worked,” Brown answered. “I had a football coach — my high school football coach, we had won the state championship — who said to me, ‘Brown, what are you going to do now that you’re graduating high school?’ I said, ‘I’m going to college.’ He said to me, ‘You don’t need a college diploma to flip burgers.’ And I said to him, when I came back 20 years later as an attorney, and I found him, I showed him my high school diploma, my college diploma, my law school degree, my bar license, and I looked at him and I said, ‘I never flipped burgers. I got my education.’”
Brown encouraged students, when faced with a roadblock or someone who tells them they can’t, to push back with the words, “I can,” and to listen to the adults who are there to love and support them.
“You think my job is hard? It is. Do I love my job? You better believe it,” Brown said. “One of the greatest parts of my job is what I’m doing right now because I get to look at y’all, and I know that we’re going to be OK because Woodlawn and the principals and the assistant principals, your social workers, your teachers are doing an amazing job to help to teach y’all, so I know we’re going to be OK.”
Alamance County District Court Judge Larry Brown gets animated during his talk at Woodlawn Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.