Verda Colvin never wanted to be a star.
On March 25, the Atlanta native and Bibb County Superior Court judge launched into an impassioned nine-minute speech in her courtroom to a bunch of at-risk kids in Macon.
The kids, ranging from age 9 to 17 and part of a volunteer program, sat in silence as Colvin showed them a body bag, admonished the girls to respect themselves and warned the boys about sexual violence in jail, if they continue down the paths they are on.
“You can be in this body bag,” Colvin told the students. “And the only way somebody will know you are in here is by this tag that’ll have your name on it. … Stop acting like you trash.”
Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin brings a courtroom full of Consider the Consequences participants to tears and all she does is tell the truth. If you would like more information on how to enroll your child in the no-cost monthly program, you can call Lieutenant Ellis Sinclair with the Bibb Sheriff’s Office Outreach at 478-803-2701. #BCSOStrong #BCSOPRIDEPosted by Bibb County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, March 30, 2016
At the end of her speech – which was videotaped and later posted on Facebook — there was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom. Including Colvin's.
Colvin said she never gave anyone permission to record the chat. In fact, she didn’t even know it had been recorded and posted until her assistant told her on April 1.
“I was a little miffed. Honestly, most judges don’t want to be shown being passionate and raw. It was meant to be private,” Colvin said. “I never want accolades. I do what I do from the heart and I am committed. I don’t want people to take what I did out of context and I don’t want the kids to think I was doing it for show. But I am glad that it is out there and touching people.”
Since the video surfaced, Colvin, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office and the program have set social and traditional media on fire. The video on the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page alone has drawn close to 230,000 views and 5,700 shares.
Colvin’s story has also been picked up by local, national and international media. She is also being sought out by parents and supporters from all over the world. Teachers are showing it in classrooms.
“I got an email from someone from Germany this morning,” Colvin said Thursday from Macon after driving back from an early morning television interview in Atlanta. “I know how I have felt about the need to touch young people. But the fact that so many people agree that we have to do something to reach them, because this is an epidemic, floors me.”
Last May, Bibb County Sheriff David Davis started what came to be known as the “Consider the Consequences” program.
Managed by Lt. Ellis Sinclair, the program takes at-risk students through the system to see what court and jail are like. Kids are dressed in jumpsuits, handcuffed and placed in leg shackles. They also are put into cells and given a bologna sandwich and apple for lunch.
“We let them talk to inmates, but in a calm setting. Then we follow up with them in the months afterwards to give them life skills,” Davis said. “It all boils down to showing them that someone cares about them.”
Barbara Moffett’s three grandsons — ages 10,12 and 15 — are in the program. She is raising her son’s boys and said while they do not have behavior problems, she wanted to expose them to the reality of what could happen.
“I want them to see what it is like, so they will not go that route,” Moffett said. “Judge Colvin has a real good message and when my boys went through the program, it scared them to death.”
When the program started last May, Sinclair asked Colvin to talk to the students, which she does monthly.
“She keeps it real,” Davis said. “And she does a fantastic job.”
Colvin graduated from Therrell High School in 1983 and got her law degree from the University of Georgia. She moved to Macon in 1999 as an assistant U.S. attorney.
In 2014, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her to the Bibb County Superior Court, where she handles narcotics cases. Most of which involve young black males.
“So it is troubling to see youth struggling as much as they do,” Colvin said. “That is why I ratchet up what I say to those kids. Because we do see certain segments of our population going to jail.”
In her courtroom that Friday morning, Colvin is as raw as she didn’t want to be.
“Get yourself together.”
“Why would you want to be another statistic?”
“The way you going, you will go to jail. Or you will end up in this body bag.”
To a group of girls in the program: “Young ladies, whether anyone has ever told you before, you are special. You are uniquely made. Stop acting like you are trash and putting pictures of yourself on the internet. Stop being disrespectful to your parents. Be somebody. Anybody can be nothing.”
On Thursday, Colvin told the AJC that she never prepares for the speeches.
“What I say is based on what I am seeing. I guess it just flowed. I just let the truth be told,” Colvin said. “The kids are harder, colder and meaner today. We need to let them know.”
A single mother of two, Colvin ended her talk by making it personal.
She talked about her son, a college junior. She said her son was a good kid who rarely got in trouble. But whenever he did, whenever a teacher reported that he had done something bad, she would later retreat to a quiet place and cry.
On the video, in front of the kids in the courtroom — and the world — she started crying and left.
“The emotional struggles are the same, regardless of your occupation,” she said Thursday. “The trials and tribulations of raising kids are universal. We are more alike than different and no parent ever wants to admit that they can’t do it alone. I wanted them to feel from a stranger what it feels like to be a mom.”
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com