This week, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia announced the appointment of Judge Verda Colvin to the Supreme Court of Georgia. Colvin, who served as a judge in Bibb County, became a sensation in 2016 from a video of her lecture to teens who were participating in the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office’s “Consider the Consequences” program.
The video, which went viral, begins with Colvin standing in a courtroom filled with teenagers who had had run-ins with the law. She shakes out a white body bag and tells them: “You can have the ultimate experience to be in this body bag. The only way someone would know this was you was the tag. What do you want to do? The way you are going, you will go to jail, or you will end up in this body bag.”
Her audience was divided by gender — females on the left and males on the right. While walking toward the females, Colvin challenged them, “Young ladies, no matter what anyone has ever told you, you are special and uniquely made. Stop acting like trash and putting pictures of yourself on the internet.” Colvin’s advice was to “care about your future. Be somebody, anyone can be nothing ... care about yourselves.”
You might wonder why it’s important to care about yourself. Here’s why: If you don’t care about yourself and don’t respect yourself, then you will settle for bad treatment from others. You will play the role of a victim; you will assume that their bad treatment of you reflects your worth. That’s not true. Their behavior reflects their weakness. A person’s bad treatment of others reflects their own insecurities and weaknesses. People who are strong are generous and helpful; only the weak are controlling and manipulative. The weak look for those who are even weaker but move along when they run into those who are strong. Do not take up the role of a victim because you will continually run across those who want to keep you in that same role.
Colvin’s advice to the males was informed by her personal experience. “Young men, I raised a young man as a single parent by myself,” she said. “I know it all, been there, done that.” She noted that her son thought he was cool in school, but she warned him away from those who would try to lead him into trouble.
“You know what I told him: ‘I know you’re cool and all that, I get it, I know you’re just the man, but you know I’m just a little crazy ... Tell them, (when you’re being pressed into doing something wrong) ... my mom is crazy,” said Colvin. “Tell those who want to lead you into trouble that ‘I’ve got to go.’”
Colvin continued: “Get some goals ... when you don’t make a goal for yourself, society is going to make one of these two options,” referring to the jail or the body bag. If we don’t form our own goals, then we will have goals of others or of society thrust upon us.
She challenged them not to blame their behavior on their personal circumstances. “Don’t use your family situation as an excuse,” she said. “Get a skill, you’ve got to do something. Anybody can do nothing. Why would you want to do nothing?”
Her question resonates today.
The judge’s final remarks reflect a belief that I hold dear: each of us is a child of God. “You are special, and you are uniquely made, and nobody else can do what you’re supposed do in this world, nobody else can,” Colvin said. “And if you don’t do it, we won’t have it.”
We all have a calling in life, and we all are part of God’s plan, but we must first believe that we are as valuable as others and treat ourselves and others with the respect that we deserve as children of God.
It’s this core belief in our personal worth and worthwhile work that allows us to set higher goals than what we might be able to achieve on our own. It also grants us the ability to continue to work toward these goals when challenges arise.
It’s our belief in the personal worth of others that allows us to pause and reconsider when we begin to feel as though we are superior to others; to remind ourselves that we are all equal in God’s sight and that our surety of right must certainly be wrong if it comes at the expense of others. While we should all seek to make something of ourselves, we should never do so at the expense of others.