Southwest DeKalb High School student Bria Cooper said her favorite thing about DeKalb County Judge Stacey Hydrick’s mentoring program was visiting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab.
Cooper, who will be a senior this fall, is interested in science and even though she doesn’t want to be a lawyer, she decided to enroll in the judge’s program anyway.
“My friend just told me about it,” Cooper said. “I was kind of hesitant because I’m not going into law or anything like that. When I really think about it though I do kind of like the law.”
This is the first year Hydrick has held the program, which was attended by 10 high school girls, ages 14-18. Hydrick said she fashioned her program much like the Leadership DeKalb program, which focuses on bringing together diverse leaders from throughout DeKalb County.
“They got a behind-the-scenes process and look at the system that they never would have gotten otherwise,” Hydrick said.
Throughout the six-week program, which was held each Friday, the girls visited, or were introduced to, a variety of departments and people working within the DeKalb County court system such as District Attorney Robert James, Solicitor General Sherry Boston, and officials from the GBI, medical examiner’s office, and county social workers.
“We accomplished a lot in six weeks,” Hydrick said. She explained that in addition to having guest speakers, the group also went on field trips to the DeKalb County Jail and to the DeKalb County Magistrate and Juvenile courts.
Hydrick said the idea came to her after she spoke at Voices of Faith Church in Stone Mountain. She said a group of young girls wanted her to speak about bullying and afterward, many of the girls’ parents asked if she had any type of mentoring program in place.
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t,” Hydrick told them.
Soon after she started SMILE, which stands for Summer Mentoring Initiative in Legal Education, and Hydrick said she is going to do it every summer. Next year, those interested in attending the program will be required to fill out applications and have letters of recommendation.
“I’m going to have a GPA requirement and make it a little competitive,” Hydrick said.
Cooper’s mother Sandra said the program was enlightening for her daughter. She also said it exposed Cooper to aspects of the criminal justice profession she hadn’t thought about before, such as forensics and prosecution.
Hydrick also required the girls to read Cupcake Brown’s memoir A Piece of Cake, which Sandra said was inspiring to Cooper. The book details Brown’s struggle with her mother’s early death. Brown was forced to live in foster homes, where she suffered both physical and mental abuse. The novel also describes Brown’s later life as a prostitute living on the streets and how she overcame drug addiction, graduated from law school and became a top prosecutor at one of California’s largest law firms.
“It was a very inspiring story to Bria,” Sandra said.