There are many things that stand out about Monday’s swearing in of new Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Albert Kirby, and great lessons to be learned. We particularly hope young people will somehow get the opportunity to glimpse the history that was made and witness, albeit second hand, the divides that were bridged during a half-hour when people came together to celebrate the success of one of their own.
There were many teachable moments during the ceremony. Among them were:
• Hard work, strong ethics, faith in God and an iron determination trump poverty. Kirby, by his own admission, was raised very poor. But the sacrifices of a mother who loved her family; teachers and coaches who stood behind a young man who worked hard to achieve; friends who remained loyal; and the will of a young man to rise above his circumstances, with priorities of education, faith and hard work as his focus, brought great success.
• Not everyone thinks race first. A standing room only courtroom of well-wishers from all walks of life, every socio-economic background, myriad professions and multiple races was a testament to that fact. Blacks sat or stood elbow to elbow with whites, Hispanics and Native Americans, all there to cheer on the first African-American to hold the District 4 seat. More importantly, they weren’t there because Kirby was black. They were there because Kirby was their friend, their colleague and their neighbor, someone who had earned the accolades lavished upon him and the seat awarded to him by the Gov. Roy Cooper.
• Republicans and Democrats can unite. During remarks from Clinton Mayor Lew Starling, a long-time friend of Kirby’s, it became clear that Starling and his uncle, the Honorable Leo Daughtry, retired NC senator and representative, had worked hard for Kirby back in the 1980s, when the Clinton native made his first run for judge in Greenville. Starling and Daughtry, long-time Republicans, were standing toe-to-toe with Kirby, a Democrat, doing their best to help him get the seat. It proves that differing parties can come together for the greater good. Kirby was that greater good then, and he remains so today. We, like Starling and Daughtry, believe Kirby will be a great judge, not because he is black or because of his party affiliation but because he is smart, fair-minded, hard-working and a great jurist. In the courtroom Monday, people from all parties came together for that very reason. Throughout Kirby’s life, the same is true: people from all walks of life have worked with him and for him, setting the examples he has followed and the ones that have helped to make him the man he is today.
• Never forget from whence you came. Kirby, a Clinton High graduate and a native son of Sampson, never has. He proved that again Monday. Fighting back tears, Kirby rattled off names of a dozen or more people who helped him along the way, including long-time friend and teacher Cynthia Shell, his coaches, his college friends at both Campbell and Wake Forest, law colleagues, neighborhood friends, his family and most especially his mother, who he touted, as well he should have, the most. His remarks weren’t for show. They came from the heart, as they do every time Kirby references those who have helped him become the man he is today. He remains humble, true to those who have helped him and grateful both for where he was born and for what he has accomplished.
His swearing in was important for many reasons, but it is perhaps the life lessons we can garner from that brief ceremony that, if taken to heart, can make us all better individuals.