Accepting an invitation from Assistant Principal Julie Davidson, General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon and former Chattanooga City Court Judge Walter Williams spoke to hundreds of students at Brown Middle School on Wednesday.
Several students afterwards said the judges had them thinking about their future and the importance of getting an education.
Judge Moon opened the program held in the gymnasium by stating, "There are more than two million people in the jails and prisons in this country today. The one thing that most of those miserable inmates have in common is that they dropped out of school. If you stay in school and become somebody and live smart instead of hard, you will most likely never see the inside of a prison cell."
Judge Williams encouraged the students saying, "You have to want to be somebody to be somebody. What you wear and how you act is a statement about you that you are making to the world."
The judges told the students to be careful who they associate with and to respect the teachers who are "here to make a positive difference in your lives."
In addressing the female students specifically, Judge Moon said, "If you are a woman in America today and do not have an education, you are most likely dependent upon a man or the government. True freedom and happiness comes only when you are educated, independent and successful in doing what you want to do. All roads out of poverty and misery pass by the school house and not the jail house."
Judge Williams described growing up in a housing project with apparently little opportunity to advance. He stated, "I am not going to tell you that I had holes in my clothes and no shoes. But I am going to tell you that we walked to school because we respected ourselves. I knew that getting an education was the only way out of where I was."
The judges also told the students not to worry about the "money" or think that it would be impossible to go college. Judge Moon described how the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga had taken him off of the streets in East Lake and made his dream of becoming a lawyer a reality. Judge Williams was financially assisted by the Rotary Club of Chattanooga to go to Morehouse University and then to law school.
Judge Moon said, "The money will be there, at least in part if not in full. The real issue is that you have to be there to take advantage of it. The more you learn the more you earn."
Ms. Davidson stated, "This has been a wonderful experience for our kids and our staff. Anytime we can bring in role models, it shows them the possibilities."