Judge Greg Mathis will be the very special guest as the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute hosts its First Annual Awards Luncheon and Awards to Community Difference Makers on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Concourse Hotel.
“I’m a fan of his show. He’s a very impressive man ... and very passionate,” says Charles Hamilton Houston Institute founder and board president John Odom in an interview with The Madison Times at Cargo Coffee on Madison’s south side. “He has quite a life story to tell and he has risen from some serious challenges. I think his story is important for young people and for people who work with young people to let them know that there are possibilities and that you can make a profound change.”
Judge Mathis is a national figure known for his advocacy campaigns for equal justice. His inspirational life story of a street youth who rose from jail to judge has provided hope to millions who watch him on the award-winning television court show Judge Mathis each day. In addition, his weekly newspaper column brings social and political insight to readers throughout the country.
“I think the way he thinks and operates fits very well with the mission of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute’s mission. It’s a natural fit. The fact that we’re named for a groundbreaking attorney fits really well and I think our mission on working with young people on economic independence and transformational change.”
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute's mission is to prepare Black and other youth for economic independence by focusing on: self-esteem, health, goal-setting, academic achievement, study skills, diploma and degree completion, work skills, business opportunities service to others and citizenship
Judge Mathis is dedicated to promoting positive youth development, creating safer communities and strengthening families. Mathis continues to hit the streets in an effort to help others, joining the fight for various causes and drawing national attention and throngs of supporters.“Judge Mathis has some great programs for helping young people – especially people in the criminal justice system,” Odom says. “I think he and we are traveling down a very similar path.”
Some of Judge Mathis' programs are as follows:
• MENtorship MENistry is a church-based preventive mentorship program geared toward providing positive mentoring relationships to teenaged boys with no fatherly presence living in single mother homes. Volunteer MENtors serve as male role models to help instill a sense of values and provide guidance to teens in need.
• The Prisoner Empowerment Education and Respect Initiative (PEER) is a nationwide effort by Judge Greg Mathis providing motivation, information and support to ex-offenders and those who are currently incarcerated. Judge Mathis visits jails and prisons throughout the country sharing his personal testimony of triumph over the challenges of incarceration and crime
• The Judge Mathis Self-Empowerment Expo connects youth with resources that help them envision and create a better future for themselves.
• The Mathis Community Center meets the needs of the community by providing vocational and job training and assistance. The Center operates a variety of programs, including cosmetology training and initiatives designed to help ex-offenders get on their feet.
Likewise, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute (CHHI) is involved in many different things to make a difference in the community. CHHI's parent program works with parents of students. “Our thought was that if we can help parents to advance their own education and to achieve employment or to start a business, that the ripple affect for the kids and their family would be extremely positive,” Odom says. “A lot of what happens in terms of children is very much dependent on the parents understanding their role in the child's life in terms of education.”
Designed with pre-kindergarten through first graders students in mind, CHHI’s Summer Training for At-Risk Students (STARS) Program provides community’s youngest scholars with the head start they need to succeed. Over the course of six weeks, this half-day educational program focuses on key social and academic skills, improving student performance by raising confidence and encouraging excellence.
“STARS pre-dates the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute; my wife Ann started it 24 years ago,” Odom says. “It's a six-week summer program that helps struggling kids. At a very young age, if a child hasn't mastered reading with his or her peers by the third grade, they are in big trouble. So we see a lot of kids who don't know their alphabets, numbers, or colors in classrooms with kids who have mastered this stuff in kindergarten, so they are behind already. But the opportunity to catch up will never be closer than it is at that level [in third grade.]”
When CHHI has the funds, they also promote programs for middle school and high school students through its Youth Empowerment Academy.
This will be a major fundraiser for CHHI to enable them to do the many great things that they do. “Our biggest goal is to fund the event and maybe raise a little money, but I think there's also the hope to raise our visibility in the community and let people know that we are still here and doing things and that we need their volunteer help and also certainly need their contributions,” Odom says. “Our board is voluntary and we don't have paid staff, so every bit helps.”
At the event, CHHI will present awards to more than 20 people who have quietly done some great things in the community. The event will be co-sponsored by Madison Gas & Electric and the UW-Madison Division of Equity. The day will be dedicated to the late Al Studesville who passed away a few months ago. “Al was our founding vice president and he was one of the very few people that I spoke to about getting this started,” Odom remembers. “Anybody who knows Al knows that when he says yes he was all in for us. We can't let this luncheon happen without at least spending some time and acknowledging his contributions and saying thank you to him and [his wife] Jan for all that they've done for us.”
Odom is hoping for a big attendance at the event and says that CHHI has a simple goal of making life better for our children and to make the community a better place. “We are a group of concerned citizens — we are educators, lawyers, business people, and retirees. We've been at this for 12 years. We know we're not alone in this, and we hope people will help us achieve these goals,” Odom says. “We are going to have a great time. Hopefully, we will be able to raise a lot of money and to raise consciousness about who we are and what we are trying to do in the community to get more people to chip in and help us. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a great event.”
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute will host its First Annual Awards Luncheon and Awards to Community Difference Makers on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Concourse Hotel. Tickets are $30 and available at (608) 441-1400 or by visiting www.chhimadison.org
Tickets can be obtained from any CHHI board member including Will Green, Pia Kinney James, Shanee McCoy, Dr. John Odom, Rev. Walter Ragland, Atty. Joseph Thomas, and Anthony Timmons.