St. Louis judge sheds light on implicit bias

Taking things a step at a time is something all people have to do. Sometimes, individuals approach life like a chess game. If they make a bad move, they can lose – not just the game, but their life.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jimmie Edwards visited Missouri Southern State University Friday, Feb. 27, to present a lecture on Implicit Bias and his vision. Edward’s vision regarding at-risk youth brought about the Innovative Concept Academy. The lecture was attended by approximately 100 teachers, staff, students and community members.

“I want to compliment Missouri Southern State University, its faculty and staff for their leadership and commitment to equal education, for all,” said Edwards. “I want to thank the Teaching and Learning committee for its work to make a difference in the lives of children, irrespectively of who they are or what they are,” Edwards added.

During the lecture, Edwards made points about everyone having implicit bias towards a group of people based on background, color or demographic. Edwards pointed out that so many times, people are not even aware of these biases.

“These biases are here in Joplin, here on campus, here in this room right now,” said Edwards. “It will probably always exist at some level in our individual and collective consciousness.”

Edwards said people must recognize that these implicit biases are not a problem “over there”, but right here in our area. These attitudes are developed towards people of different race, religion, sexual orientation or demographic.

The implicit biases are normally planted at a young age and Edwards said they need to be discussed to be changed.

“The less we talk about these biases the less we realize them and can change them,” Edwards said.

The Innovative Concept Academy was founded in 2009 and takes in the students who have found their way to Edwards’ courtroom. Many judges would simply lock the kids up, but Edwards gives everyone something to consider.

“How do you want your kids back? Do you want them back as better criminals or as better people? Let’s educate them, they want to learn,” Edwards said.“At the Academy, we have them from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. We keep them busy, we keep them involved,” Edwards said.

“There are three big factors to kids getting in trouble – lack of parental supervision, poverty and too much idle time. We work hard to take care of two of those three things. The results we see continue to be amazing,” Edwards added.

Since 2009, over 700 at-risk youth have enrolled at the Academy. They learn not only life skills, but they are allowed to earn their GED.

“I am extremely impressed with Judge Edwards and his message,” said Stephanie Hopkins, director of the student success center and chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee at Southern. “I am inspired by how he is helping so many people, and changing so many lives. He is a hero. He is someone who we all can look up to because of the example he is setting.”

One of the biggest messages from Edwards, and a base for the Academy, is that these kids need someone to take an interest in them. Edwards also says that without some type of intervention, the likelihood of the kids becoming successful and staying out of his court is very low.

The Innovative Concept Academy utilizes public school teachers and administrators to work with the kids. Because of the attention they receive, students have a greater success rate than they would have if they would have been condemned to the streets.

“What I personally found motivating and inspirational is the fact that he is changing lives. He is being that positive influence in the lives of those without it,” Hopkins said. “Without Judge Edwards, who knows what would happen to his students. We all need to care about each other and help each other. We all have the opportunity to make someone else’s life better. He is living out his dream. He is definitely a hero in my eyes.”