He Was a Good Judge

Ketih Brown on the Bench - Gloria Casas (Sun-Times Media)Kane’s First African American Judge Leaves Legacy, so the headline reads. Indeed, he has, and a very good one; but the headline strikes a discord in me. Let me explain.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that we focus too much on race sometimes. Is that the most defining characteristic, the primary lasting legacy, that Judge Keith Brown leaves us? No, I think not. He is/was a good judge, one of the best we have had. He leaves a legacy of strong character, integrity and a very good judge.

Yes, he was the first African American judge in Kane County Illinois, a County with a storied history and home to the oldest, continuous bar association in the State that goes back to the circuit riding days of Abraham Lincoln, back to a very different time in which African Americans were enslaved and oppressed. That is a legacy too, but one which is more like a cloud, and hopefully we emerging out from under that cloud into the sunlight.

I hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “I had a dream,” echo in my head as I write this. We have risen “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” and are on the “sunlit path to racial justice. “The “bright days of justice” have emerged, but there is the ever present temptation “to satisfy our thirst for justice by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Keith Brown did not drink from that cup. He “walked on the high plain of dignity and discipline” as Doctor King eloquently instructed. Keith Brown’s legacy is not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. His character and his legacy are that of a good judge, one of the best judges we have had in Kane County during his tenure.

Dr. King had a dream that the valleys would be exalted, the hills and mountains made low, the rough places would be made plain, and the crooked paths be made straight. He saw by faith the transformation of “jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” Keith Brown played well his part in that symphony.

Dr. King’s final words in that speech remain:

When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring
from every city and every hamlet, from every state and
every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all
of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and
Gentiles, Protestants and Catholic, will be able to join
hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
“Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are
free at last.”

The discord remains. We will not have achieved that place that Dr. King envisioned until we the headlines read, “Judge Leaves Legacy”, and that legacy is not first and foremost that he was black, or she was a woman or she was Hindi, but the headline is about the character and integrity of the individual regardless of race, gender, creed.

It strikes me in reading the article that being black and awareness of the history the legacy of African Americans in this country was keenly on his mind, but he did not wear that legacy on his sleeve. He did not allow that legacy to define him. He created a new legacy. He lived out Dr. King’s dream. He was a good example, not just for African Americans to follow; he was a role model that anyone would be honored to follow. We would all do well to follow that example.

In that vein, let me be one to say simply that Keith Brown was a very good judge, and we will miss him on the bench. I could give him no higher compliment.

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