Noting that the legal community was saddened by the recent death of Judge William C. Thompson, Sr., Brooklyn Associate Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix says it’s “important that we maintain the road that Judge Thompson paved.”
“It is our jobs as judges and members of the bar to ensure that our judiciary reflects the people who come before it,” said Barbadian-born Justice Hinds-Radix in delivering her acceptance speech last Thursday after the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) honored her, with its Trailblazer Award, during its 142nd Annual Meeting at the New York Hilton Midtown, midtown Manhattan.
“Although we have made many strides in this area, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done,” added Brooklyn resident Hinds-Radix, associate justice, New York State Appellate Division, Second Department.
She described Judge Thompson as “a true trailblazer,” stating that he was the first African-American senator elected from the borough of Brooklyn in 1965.
Judge Thompson, who was born in Harlem to immigrants from St. Kitts, was also the first African-American to be designated to the Appellate Division, Second Department in 1980, Justice Hinds-Radix said.
“His death leaves a gaping hole in our community, especially amongst African American attorneys and jurists,” she said. “Justice Thompson was a mentor to every person of color who was elected or appointed to the bench. He paved the road for many, and his contributions will be remembered for decades to come.”
Justice Hinds-Radix said it was “very important to state that today, in 2019, there are no African-American male justices currently sitting in any of the four Appellate Divisions.
“Some may ask why is this significant,” she said. “To answer this question, I am reminded of a speech I made at a junior high school during one of my yearly career day visits. It occurred about two years before President Obama was elected. I recall making my speech to the class and was elated that I was maintaining their attention.
“At some point in my speech, I told these students that, if they worked hard, they could become whatever they wanted to be, even the president of the United States,” Justice Hinds-Radix said. “At this point, a hand went up, and a young man said, ‘Judge, can I ask you a question?’ And he proceeded to ask, ‘When have you seen a person of color become the President of the United States?’
“My answer to him was, ‘well, it has not happened yet, but it can,’” she added. “However, what was most profound in my mind was that this eight-year-old boy made such an astute observation. That, at his tender age, he observed diversity or lack thereof.
“We must understand the need for role models, and that it is important for children to see people of all colors and creeds, particularly people who look like them, taking their rightful places in our nation,” Justice Hinds-Radix continued.
“Of course, two years later, I was happy to return to that school, in the hope that someone who had heard that question, and my answer, was still there, and could see that I had not been spreading a pipe dream but that this possibility had become a reality in the form of President Barack Obama,” she said.
Justice Hinds-Radix said it was also significant to note that “we started this year with the swearing in of New York’s first African American Attorney General, Letitia James.
“This is historic, not only because she is the highest-ranking female and African American in our state’s government, but it has sent a message to the nation and the world that women are powerful and can, indeed, make a positive change in our society and in our nation,” she said.
“Tish (Letitia) is the epitome of what hard work and sacrifice can achieve, and she is an excellent role model for all young women,” Justice Hinds-Radix said. “If you put in the work, anything is possible.”
Justice Hinds-Radix’s Howard University of Law classmate and colleague, Justice Sylvia Ash, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, of Vincentian and Grenadian parentage, said Judge Thompson was “a stalwart in the political and legal community fighting for justice and equality for all.
“He was also a trailblazer, who paved the way for people of color to become judges,” Justice Ash, a presiding judge in the Commercial Division, Kings County Supreme Court, told Caribbean Life. “He was my mentor and a very dear friend whom I will miss dearly.”