I recently had the opportunity to chat with County Court Judge Lester B. Bass about the Jean Ribault High School Mentoring Program. Here’s what he had to say. Thank you, Judge Bass, for your service!
What has been one of the most powerful moments you have witnessed so far?
One of the most transformational moments for me was to witness Jean Ribault High School students demonstrate leadership, confidence and effective communication skills during the mock trial in my courtroom. Contrary to many of the negative stereotypes associated with youth today, the students displayed enthusiasm and courage during the mock trial experience. Their questions were an indication of their higher order thinking skills and a desire to be fully immersed in the legal process. My heart was delighted to see our bright young future leaders conducting themselves as though they were seasoned attorneys. It was an awesome experience to behold!
What do you and other legal professionals gain from participating in this program?
As a current judge, former General Magistrate, former prosecutor, and former defense attorney, I have personally witnessed the tragic destruction of young people’s lives by the choices that they make and the choices made for them by society. It is refreshing to be involved in this preventive measure to encourage youth to discover their strengths and abilities. My goal is to assist youth with their decision making skills and understanding the consequences of their behavior. It takes me back to a similar point in my own life when I faced the same choices and challenges. “To whom much is given, much is required.” I am blessed to give back to the community that has given me so much. It comes as a solemn duty to equip youth with the knowledge and skills to be successful. I also serve as the Assistant Scoutmaster with a local Boy Scout troop and speak with diverse youth about charting paths for success at various events. I often think about my own mentors that influenced my career and life choices such as: my parents, neighbors, local attorneys, scoutmaster, pastors, teachers, and many others. How do I impart into today’s youth what my mentors gave to me? As a member of the judiciary, it is very rewarding to expose youth to one of the greatest professions on Earth.
What kind of impact do you hope this program is making on the lives of students?
I hope that this program is impacting the lives of the students/mentees by opening their eyes to new career choices and expanding their dreams about what they may accomplish in life. Hopefully, by seeing successful persons who came from very similar circumstances as they did, they will be empowered to say and believe that they can accomplish similar goals. The program will also broaden students’ horizons and expose them to careers that lack racially/ethnically diverse representation. They will leave this program believing that they too can be lawyers and judges. My goal is to assist these bright and gifted youth in charting positive courses for their lives. I want them to know that I care about their futures and I am available to support and encourage them along the journey.
How do you see this program impacting the public education experience?
Having graduated from the public education system, I truly understand and appreciate the value of public education. It is the foundation that I received through the public education experience that allowed for my success at Duke University and the University Of North Carolina School Of Law. Hopefully, the Ribault High Mentoring Program will help students to make the connection between education and real life experiences. As a young person, it is often difficult to make the connection between the knowledge and skills that you are gaining in school and your future career. I see this program impacting the public education experience in three ways.
The Ribault High Mentoring Program will:
1. Add a new dimension to the public school experience by helping these young people to understand why they are in school and the future benefits of a good education. They are in school not for a fashion show or to be babysat while parents do other things. School is the training ground for your future careers. This is not practice, it is very much reality. They must be made to realize the significance of getting all that they can from their public education experiences here as they prepare for their tomorrows. Statistics clearly show that one of the main determinants for a life of crime and poverty is education levels;
2. Help reinforce the importance of staying in school, academic success, and achieving a meaningful life career. The students must connect the importance of getting good grades, staying in school, avoiding a life of crime, and making good choices with their future careers as adults. I want them to understand that the decisions or choices that they are making right now as teenagers will seriously impact the quality and type of lives that they will lead as adults;
3. Encourage young people to pursue legal careers or any other profession through higher education. I view education as one of the most important vehicles for upward mobility in today’s society. Hopefully, this mentoring program will instill into these young minds the importance of a good quality education.