Mecklenburg District Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell often talks about how she strives to lead by example. And the veteran judge tries to make sure children are aware of the possibilities for their futures.
Nancy Roberson, the Mecklenburg County Bars executive director, has heard McKoy-Mitchell talk about times when she is asked to speak to teenagers as a judge.
She arrives without her robe and asks the youth present if they have seen the speaker, Roberson said. Invariably, she reports that the youth reply, Hes not here yet.
She always smiles when she tells this story because not only do the children not think about a judge being black, but they also dont think about a judge as a woman. The kids usually finally figure out shes the judge and the speaker. Judge McKoy-Mitchell always says opportunities open up for those children who realize, I can be a judge one day.
McKoy-Mitchell has won the 2012 Julius L. Chambers Diversity Champion Award for her efforts to advance diversity and equal opportunity.
The Mecklenburg County Bar award recognizes individuals with high ethical standards, unquestioned integrity and consistent competence and who champion diversity in the legal profession.
Passion for mentoring youth
Judge McKoy-Mitchell has always worked tirelessly, but quietly, to support causes she believes in, from youth mentorship to preventing teen violence, Mecklenburg Chief District Judge Lisa Bell said.
She never looks for accolades but unquestionably deserves them. She epitomizes a true public servant.
McKoy-Mitchell, 52, has served on the bench for nearly 14 years. I am honored and humbled to receive this award knowing what it recognizes and in light of those who have received the award in the past, she told the Observer.
The previous winners of the award are Julius L. Chambers in 2008, George V. Hanna III in 2009, Judge Clifton E. Johnson in 2010 and James E. Ferguson II in 2011.
The award is named after Chambers, a civil rights lawyer who in 1971 argued the landmark Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case at the U.S. Supreme Court and won approval for the use of busing to integrate public schools.
McKoy-Mitchell was a Mecklenburg prosecutor in 1998 when then-Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her to the bench. She won election to the judgeship later that year and has been re-elected three times.
Before joining the Mecklenburg District Attorneys Office, she worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Social Security Administration and Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont.
McKoy-Mitchell has served on a number of boards in the community. Shes currently on the Mecklenburg County Bars Special Committee on Diversity and is on the faculty of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which provides training to judges across the country.
McKoy-Mitchell has also served in leadership roles for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Childrens Law Center, the Devonshire School Lawyer Partnership and the YWCA.
The judge has received numerous awards for her professional and community work, including the Unsung Hero Award from Mecklenburgs Black Political Caucus.
McKoy-Mitchell received her undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill. During her undergraduate work, she was the recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, among the most prestigious awards presented by North Carolinas governor to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. She is one of the youngest to receive the award.
Roberson, the Mecklenburg County Bars executive director, called McKoy-Mitchell a perfect choice for the Julius L. Chambers Diversity Champion Award.
Her commitment to diversity, the legal profession and our community is truly humbling, Roberson said, and we feel fortunate to count her as a member of the Mecklenburg County Bar.