By Warren C. Evans, Wayne County Executive
I have always believed that it is important to give the giants in our community the praise and recognition they deserve while they are still alive and able to appreciate it. For the Black community this sort of recognition is not simply important, it is critical.
Once I heard that both Judge Ulysses Boykin and Judge Craig Strong were retiring this year, I knew I could not allow this occasion to pass without sharing a few words to honor the remarkable careers of two of Michigan’s most brilliant and influential legal minds.
Throughout the vast scope of American history, Black history has far too often been ignored, erased, or in some other way perverted by those whom I believe may in some ways be afraid of the truth. The result of this purposeful misrepresentation has been that Black people are too often mischaracterized as a threat and a nuisance, to the point where America’s jails and prisons are disproportionately populated by young men and women of color to a staggering degree. It is these images of threatening blackness that are broadcast ad nauseum. It is these images that too often define Black people in the public consciousness.
Judge Boykin and Judge Strong possess the antidote to that misperception; their sterling character and reputation. It is impossible to be aware of all that these two men have done without being forced to recognize the transformative power of such excellence delivered in the face of the sort of adversity that has challenged every African American who refused to settle for second best in a society where they were always considered last.
Judge Strong may be known to many as an exceptionally fashionable dresser, but it is the quality of his mind that shines even brighter.
Drafted in 1971, Strong served as the only African American in the Navy’s Judges Advocacy Corps at that time. In 1973, Strong received his J.D. degree from the Detroit College of Law.
While in law school, Strong worked for Wayne County Legal Services and later the Trade Union Leadership Council. Passing the Michigan State Bar at age twenty-nine, Strong became an officer of the Wolverine Bar Association and eventually its youngest president at age twenty-nine.
Judge Strong was elected to a seat on the Detroit Recorder’s Court in 1978, making him the longest serving judge on the bench. He was a founding member of the Association of Black Judges of Michigan and also served as its president, served as judicial chair of the National Bar Association, and National Chair of the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council representing judges of color in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands. He was a member of the Association’s delegation to South Africa; helped develop the International Black Bar Association; and served on the Supreme Court of South Africa.
In 1997, Strong was a key force in the establishment of the Charles Wright African American History Museum in Detroit.
Judge Boykin is someone with the kind of credentials who could have served just about anywhere he wanted, receiving his Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School where he was one of the founders of the Black Law Student Association. As a lawyer for two decades prior to becoming a judge, he practiced at the prestigious firm of Lewis, White & Clay, and also became the first African-American attorney to practice at Dickinson Wright in Detroit.
In 1999, Gov. John Engler appointed Boykin to the Wayne County Circuit Court where he was last re-elected to a six-year term in 2014. Judge Boykin has also served as the Chairman of the Young Lawyers Section of the Detroit Bar Association, on the board of the Wolverine Bar Association, and in various capacities for the Association of Black Judges of Michigan.
For Boykin, his mission has never been complex. He was quoted in The Detroit News as saying “I believe in equal justice under the law.”
We don’t need to look to the sky for our heroes; Judge Strong and Judge Boykin are living proof that they have always been right here among us, members of our own community.