“It is far easier to build strong children than to repair broken [wo]men” – Frederick DouglassThe Honorable Reverend Everett Mitchell is a fierce advocate for education and equity. Judge Mitchell was elected to the Dane County Circuit Court and presides over the Juvenile Division in Branch Four. As a juvenile court judge hears cases involving family re-unification, juvenile delinquency, and other civil and criminal proceedings. Judge Mitchell also oversees Dane County’s High Risk Drug Court Program.
Long before, Judge Mitchell was elected as a judge, he grew up as the son of single mother. Eventually, his mother married and the step-father sexually and physically abused Judge Mitchell and his sister for 12 years. At the age of 18 years old, a teacher called child protective service which allowed Judge Mitchell the opportunity to finish high school. As a result of those years of trauma, Judge Mitchell was functionally illiterate. He was offered a job bagging groceries when he received a call from Jarvis Christian University offering him an opportunity to attend college. Initially, Judge Mitchell declined but the counselor encouraged him to come give college a try and if college didn’t work out, then he could go back to bagging groceries. Judge Mitchell wanted to attend college and become the first person in his family to earn a college education. He went and failed every course because his illiteracy was exposed. While putting on his backpack to return home and bag groceries, two teachers at Jarvis, Mrs. Daisy Wilson and Mrs. Margaret Bell pulled Judge Mitchell to the side and said, “You are a diamond in the rough and we don’t want you to give up on your dreams of a higher education.” They taught Judge Mitchell how to read, organize notes, study for classes and the discipline of studying every night from 5 to 10 pm. Mrs. Wilson told him, “take your boom box, headphones and sit down to study.” Judge Mitchell studied and turned his 1.5 into a 4.0 in that semester. He eventually transferred to Morehouse College and graduated with a degree in Mathematics and Religion. He then furthered his education by obtaining two Master’s Degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. Eventually, he earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.
He is an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School where he teaches courses on “Race, Racism and the Law” as well as the “Foundational Principles of the Juvenile Justice System.” He is committed to dismantling what he describes as the child welfare-to-juvenile delinquency-to-adult prison pipeline operating not only in Wisconsin but nationwide. In this pipeline, systems pass traumatized children from one system to the next without acknowledging or addressing their trauma. His approach is documented in the Wisconsin Public Television Series, “Not Enough Apologies: Trauma Stories.” He believes passionately in the endless potential of children and communities to transform their trauma stories. As a trauma survivor himself, Judge Mitchell approaches each case with an eye towards making sure the court system does not contribute to the ongoing traumatic narrative that many children and families experience. He often tells the children in his court, “I am not your judge, I am your reflection.”
During his tenure on the bench, Judge Mitchell has worked with colleagues to change courtroom policies to reflect trauma informed practices, such as removing restraints and handcuffs on youth during hearings. He joined several judges in petitioning the Wisconsin Supreme Court to support changing the presumption to ensure that children in Wisconsin can attend their court hearings without restraints and handcuffs. Judge Mitchell worked with the Madison Metropolitan School District, the second largest district in the state, to create an Office of Youth Engagement that provides a bridge for youth involved in the criminal justice system to educational programming.
He also initiated conversations with the school district to create more inclusive policies and practices concerning youth involved in the criminal justice system, many of whom also receive special education and related services, by reducing the number of students on shortened school day schedules so their hours of instruction are increased.
Judge Mitchell works tirelessly to ensure the youth under his jurisdiction are treated with respect and dignity. While this may be common sense, it is not always common practice. After a visit to a youth prison in Wisconsin and hearing from the incarcerated young men there, he advocated that black and brown children receive haircuts by a licensed barber and not a dog groomer.
At every opportunity, Judge Mitchell tries to connect the community with incarcerated youth and adults. Through his support, members of the Black Law Students Association, the African American Council of Churches, and Civic leaders regularly visit the local detention center so to community leaders can eat lunch with and engage youth in the detention center.
Judge Mitchell is adamant that the first time people see him should not be when they appear before him in court. In contrast, he is a man woven into the fabric of his community and has visited over 30 schools in Dane County to talk with children about the juvenile justice system and empower them to think of themselves as renaissance men and women—who have the capacity to be the change they want to see in the world. Judge Mitchell has also lectured or spoken at colleges and universities, national conferences, community events, corporate events, professional development workshops, and in front of many other diverse audiences.
Judge Mitchell’s social justice lens is steeped in his calling and commitment to justice and equity. Since 2011, Judge Mitchell has served as Senior Pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He serves the congregation with passion, vision, and dedication. The mission of the church is, “…to be a place where everybody is somebody.” Under his leadership, Judge Mitchell recently led the congregation into a formal alliance with a majority white congregation so that both congregations can be intentional about dismantling the racial barriers that make Sunday morning “…the most segregated hour in America.”
Service is at the heart of Judge Mitchell. As the Co-Chair of the United Way of Dane County Community Engagement Committee, he created a process to provide grass roots organizations with seed funding so many could continue their work of supporting low-income families, domestic abuse victims, and children. His consistent dedication has been recognized within the community. Among the many awards he has received, Judge Mitchell is most proud of being honored with the 2017 City of Madison and Dane County Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.
Judge Mitchell understands the magnitude of Bryan Stevenson’s words when he wrote, “…The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
The Honorable Reverend Everett Mitchell continues to leverage his knowledge and power to lead with purpose so those who are not at the table, have their voices and interests represented.
 Not Enough Apologies: Trauma Stories: https://www.pbs.org/video/not-enough-apologies-8bdjrb/