White Hat Honorees
Esther Baylor still making a visible difference in the lives of others
Vern Dooling, a stanch supporter of children and the less fortunate really gave a great entrance to who Ms. Esther Baylor is: “Greatness does not demand a grand entrance. It just shows up and get the job done. For the past 20 plus years Ms. Baylor has shown up at the Central Broward Kiwanis meeting and quietly got the job done for hundreds of children and families.”
Esther Baylor emerged from Kemper County, Miss., where she graduated from the historic St. Joseph Catholic High School of Meridian, Miss. Yet, immediately after graduation, she set her sights on the Sunshine State. She matriculated to Bethune-Cookman University (formerly College), earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Education and English communication.
Pastor Joe Johnson’s church and community growth intertwine
The Rev. Joe Johnson’s solid presence as the leader of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hallandale since 1977 is reflected in the success and harmony of the community where the church is located. The minister’s spiritual philosophy of empowering people to lead successful lives on Earth translates into action. He is a fitting match for a church that was founded under a rubber tree in 1909, a barebones declaration of people’s desire to come together and make God the leader of their endeavors.
“Pastor Johnson is a man of integrity that leads with an intensity and isn’t afraid to involve himself in community issues that are outside of the comfort of the pulpit”, stated Pastor Anthony Sanders of Higher Vision Ministries.
By Charles Moseley
Judge Zebedee Wright will forever be known as ‘The People’s Judge’
Our nation’s greatest civil rights hero, the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was asked what defines greatness in an individual and he responded with the following statement, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Although retired Broward County Judge Zebedee Wright may have come from very humble beginnings, he clearly has made an indelible imprint on this community, an imprint which can be summarized in a few simple words. By all accounts Wright always has had a love for humanity and his commitment to serving his community.
He was born in 1934 in Louisville, Ga., “out of wedlock to a teenage mother.” He was raised by the family matriarch, his grandmother, who was affectionately known as “Mother Wright.”
He spent his formative years experiencing all the vestiges of segregation during the Jim Crow era. As a young boy living in Pahokee, Fla., where his grandmother moved the family, he witnessed firsthand the realities of racial hatred and social injustice, whether in the form of segregated movie theaters to the extremes of racial hatred displayed in the violent acts by the local Ku Klux Klan.
By the time he moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1950’s young Zebedee had determined that if his lot were to be different in life than those who picked beans for a living as so many he knew, it would have to be through gaining an education.
From the time he began school – albeit a few years later than most – Wright excelled in the classroom. He became a student athlete at Dillard High School. He also served his country in the military. He attended Florida A & M University earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education.
Whether he was fighting for equal justice during the 1970’s as a young civil rights attorney, or mobilizing the Black community to register to vote, or as a presiding justice overseeing his courtroom for over several decades, Judge Zebedee Wright developed a reputation for being strong but fair.
“If you know what you’re doing is right, it’s right, be strong and never back down.”
These were the words that he lived by. These words defined who Zebedee Wright was and who he still remains to this day.
These words did not fall on deaf ears as reflected in the words of Wright’s son Anthony, who along with Ronald and Laurette are the children of Zebedee and his first wife, the late Kathleen Cooper-Wright.
“The greatest attribute my father Zebedee Wright has given me is “STRENGTH”. The strength to be proud of who I am, the strength to remain strong in the values and beliefs I have been taught, the strength to stand up for what I believe, and the strength to remain faithful in Christ.”
Former Broward County Public Schools administrator Dr. Dorsey C. Miller has known Judge Wright since arriving in Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970’s. They both share a common bond as fraternity brothers in Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., of which Dr. Miller was the past Grand Basileus of the fraternal organization.
“When he became a judge, he was a judge that was no nonsense but in my opinion, he administered justice with mercy and you don’t find a lot of that today. And I think a lot of young people, especially whose lives could have been ruined had he ruled another way, lives were probably saved because of the fact that he administered that justice with mercy,” recalled Dr. Miller.
In addition to excelling professionally throughout his legal career, Wright devoted considerable time and effort in his youth basketball program known as the Fort Lauderdale Roadrunners.
Former Fort Lauderdale Roadrunner and now retired NBA professional basketball player Keyon Dooling was among the hundreds of those who benefitted from Coach Wright’s leadership.
“I remember the first time I met Judge Wright at six years old. His voice was thunderous, his smile was radiant, and his attire was Easter Sunday clean. I had no idea on that day I would meet a second father. You protected us, motivated us, challenged us, disciplined us, coached us, help feed us but most of all you loved us. Thanks for all the Saturday morning bus rides, thanks for all the long road trips, thanks for put-ting that board on us; we needed it, and most of all, thanks for setting an example of what a Real Brother should aspire to be.”
The greatest tribute that one can receive is that bestowed upon an individual by their peers. Judge Wright has been a trailblazer all of his professional career beginning with being the first African American graduate from the Florida State University Law School. Judge Wright was also one of the founders of the T.J. Reddick Bar Association, a civic organization comprised of Black attorney’s. He has been a role model and served as an inspiration to many attorneys throughout the state of Florida. Two among them include Judge Michael Robinson and Attorney Johnny L. McCray, Jr. who shared their personal experiences regarding Judge Wright.
“If it were not for mentors and leaders like Judge Wright and many others who constructed and maintained our “village”, I would not be the person I am today. I stand on their shoulders. He has lived and continues to live a life worth living. He is responsible for opening doors of opportunity for me, my wife, and other lawyers in South Florida,” said Judge Robinson.
“I was privileged to work with a man who during my childhood made such a difference with so many of the students in my community when he worked with my mother in Pompano teaching elementary school. My legal experience working under Judge Wright’s guidance was a rewarding experience as I learned much from a thorough, aggressive and effective trial lawyer. I admired his tenacious style and approach in protecting and enforcing the interest of his clients. Indeed, I learned from one of the best. I was also impressed with the respect he commanded when he addressed social issues. Judge Zebedee Wright,” added McCray.
Judge Wright and his wife Ann are residents of Fort Lauderdale. They have a son Jason. They also are members of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.
Ann Wright reflected on her husband in glowing terms as well as shared her insights on how much he cared about young men in the community.
“He’s a fantastic husband and father. Whenever a kid needed something all it took is one call and they had it. He is a great man and a great leader. I love him to death.”