Interview with: Judge Elijah Williams

Biographical information:

Birth Place: Fort Lauderdale
Years in Florida:  51 years (except for a 6 year military stint in England and Denver, Colorado)
House of worship:  I attend a religious service every Sunday.  For example, last Sunday I attended a service at the Mount Hermon AME Church.  This Sunday, I will attend worship services at the Harris Chapel United Methodist Church.
Married:  Deborah Williams
Children:  None, with the exception of a 5-pound Yorkie named “Taylor.”
Occupation:  Circuit Court Judge.

Family/human interest:

Where did you grow-up and what was it like?
In 1959, I was born in the Dixie Court housing projects in Fort Lauderdale. Simply put, children were much different than they are today.  I grew up in an era in which children had a deeper respect for parents, police officers, school officials, and authority figures in general. Neither parents nor teachers spared the rod.  As a result, the mere thought of armed police officers stationed at schools as “school resource officers” was nonexistent. As a juvenile delinquency judge, I can readily observe that we – as a society – have lost the hearts, minds and souls of an entire generation. 

Growing up [or now] – do you have a favorite sport, or hobby?
My only hobby has always been reading.  I currently own a private collection of over 28,000 non-fiction books on subjects ranging from biographies to religion.

Who has most shaped you as a leader – your mother or your father? Why? 
Similar to former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, I was raised by a religious mother By attending religious services at least three times a week as a youth, I was able to receive an excellent grasp of the contents of the Holy Bible, along with the complete understanding that God is the sovereign of the universe. It goes without saying that I also learned at an early age that all humans have a duty to live a life that reflects the glory of our Creator.

Where and how did you meet your spouse? 
In January 1988, I was an Air Force Captain (Lawyer) stationed in England.  My future wife, Deborah, was an Air Force Captain (Nurse) stationed in Texas. We were temporarily assigned to attend a squadron officer school in Montgomery, Alabama.  We crossed paths in a     leadership course. After we returned to our respective assignments, we kept in contact and were eventually married in 1994.

Does your family have a Thanksgiving, or Christmas tradition, that you’d like to tell us about? 
My wife comes from a rural area outside of Huntsville, Alabama.  Every Christmas, we drive up to visit her family.  I am blessed to get a glimpse of how life should be:  men seem to recognize that they have a God-given responsibility to provide for their families; women instinctually understand that you cannot have a strong community without strong, stable families; and, children regularly attend worship services and show respect for their elders.


First job?  Sweeping scrap flowers and cleaning toilets at Bunning the Florist.
Favorite movie?  “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Last book read?  “American Caesar” by William Manchester (It is the seminal biography of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.)
Musical preference?  Motion Picture Soundtracks (favorite: “Sound of Music”)
Favorite team?  University of Florida Gators
Salty or sweet?  Salty
Lakes or oceans; mountains or beaches?  Oceans & Mountains
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard?  Air Force

Public leadership:

You served in the United States Air Force. How did that prepare you for a career in public office? 
By inculcating in me the notion that the broader national interest must always outweigh any individual, selfish concerns.

What was your motivation to run for judge?
A desire to serve! I was appointed to the Circuit Court by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2002.  After I spent my first four years assigned to the adult felony division, I asked to be transferred to the juvenile delinquency division so that I could turn wayward children around.

As a juvenile delinquency judge, I have a reputation for using the “tough-love” approach, with an emphasis on the tough side of the equation.  I believe that I am making a huge difference in Broward County.  I base that belief upon the constant feedback that I receive from parents, school personnel and police officers…as well as the awards and recognitions that I am humbled to consistently receive from organizations familiar with my work.

To date is there one accomplishment in your public service that you’d like to tell us about?
Back in March 1988, I was the author of the lead article for the United States Air Force Law Reporter.  The article was entitled “DNA FINGERPRINTING – INTO THE 21st CENTURY”.   Until I wrote the article, few law enforcement personnel knew of the existence of this new technology that would become the greatest crime-solving tool since the advent of taking fingerprints.

Can you name a time where your faith was challenged as a public official?
The name “Elijah” stands for “the Lord is my God.”  Needless to say, I am proud of my name and what it stands for. Unfortunately, when I received electoral opposition from a lawyer in 2010, I was advised by the so-called campaign experts to place my name on the ballot as “E. Williams”, so as to hide the fact that I was an African-American.  (The prevailing belief was that most white voters in Broward County would intuitively perceive that I was an ethnic minority if they saw the name Elijah, and this would cost me the white vote.)
However, after prayerfully considering the matter, I acted upon faith and refused to shorten my first name to an initial. On August 24, 2010 I ended up winning re-election by a margin of 55% to 45%.  God is indeed good!

Do you intend to continue running for judge, or any other elected office? Or is this the final stop for you?
I honestly do not know. As Jeremiah 10:23 tells us: “it is not up to a man to direct his own steps.”  Wherever the Lord leads me, I intend to go.

Public perspective:

Everyone develops an opinion about Presidential and Gubernatorial elections, but few people focus on local elections. What are your thoughts about this?
Local elections are more important than statewide or national elections. I recall in the midst of my re-election campaign hearing an African-American leader tell his followers (words to this effect): “We have to support Judge Elijah Williams in his bid for reelection.  If we can vote in droves for President Obama and send him to the White House, then we have to consider that the role that a circuit judge plays in our lives is in many ways even more crucial.  Because the truth is, what Judge Williams does in his courtroom affects our children each and every day… whereas, what the president does affects us few and far between.”

Is there a person in American history that you truly admire, or are fascinated by and why?
The actor, Sidney Poitier.  Until Sidney Poitier came onto the movie scene, millions of white Americans in the South had never seen a black person whom they thought of as intelligent, educated, or articulate.  As historians have often noted, Sidney Poitier was able to transform the image of all black Americans simply in the way he carried himself on the silver screen. Amazingly, Sidney Poitier achieved his success during an era (the 1960’s) in which protests and confrontation were the order of the day.  Nevertheless, Poitier’s style was equally as effective in moving the black race forward.

You grew up here and have served in Broward County, as an Assistant State Attorney, and a Judge. What is your observation about the current state of civil order here?
In my opinion, civil order demands that there be common threads connecting us as a community.  Unfortunately, Broward County has become a diverse community of strangers with few common threads to connect us.  And, this problem is evident in many respects.  For example, when I grew up as a child, every high school student knew the name of his principal and the school’s mascot (e.g., Flying L, Panther, Hurricanes). Nowadays, as a juvenile court judge, whenever I pose these questions to a youth in front of me, I find that few of them have a clue as to who the principal of their school is or the name of the school mascot.   In essence, we have a semblance of civil order in Broward County…that is, people go to work and school on a daily basis.  However, without shared knowledge, experiences or vision, we can never become great as a community.

Please complete the following sentences:

The one thing that I would change about Broward County is … “the unbridled growth fueled by lobbyist and developers.”
The one thing that I would change about Florida is … “the fact that we have a political structure that is designed to benefit politicians, and not the people.”

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