Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry with his children

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Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry with his children

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry with his children

February 22, 2017

Jaimon Perry, Willis Perry, and Kamilah Perry with their father, Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry.

Justice James E. C. Perry served as the first African-American judge appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. Justice Perry served as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court beginning in July 2003.

In March 2009, Justice James E. C. Perry became the fourth African-American to serve as Florida Supreme Court Justice. Justice Perry retired from the Florida Supreme Court on December 30, 2016.

Justice Perry and his wife Adrienne Perry have three children. Adrienne Perry, a professor of education at Stetson University, served as the first black mayor of Longwood.

Their children, Jaimon and Kamilah Perry, are attorneys with The Perry Law Group, and Willis Perry is a human resources manager.

Listen as Justice Perry describes the mentoring programs he founded for children in our area in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry at the Orlando Public Library on December 19, 2017.

LISTEN Part V (15:30)

Speaking of accomplishments, you created the Jackie Robinson Athletic Association, a baseball program serving 650 at risk boys and girls. It became the largest in the nation. How did that come about?

Well, it came about when President Clinton signed the three strikes you're out legislation and I knew exactly what that meant. And I knew that blacks were disproportionately represented in the penal system. And I knew that criminologists could determine when kids were in K-3 how many prison beds to build for 20 years out and be right on the money. I also knew that the majority, 95 percent of the people in the penal system are illiterate or semi-illiterate. And it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy if you can tell within kindergarten how many prison beds to build for 20 years later. So I was trying to short circuit that in Orange County. And, I wasn't really a baseball fan. But it's in the summer and I decided that when I was growing up, we had a Little League, the churches did, and in order to play on the team you had to go to Sunday School. And to go to Sunday School you have to be able to read these little cards. And the deacons and the people in church were the coaches.

Mentoring System

So you had a mentoring system. We didn't call it that then, but that's basically what it is. So I figured that same structure could probably work here. So I went to the churches first. I said, "Well, why don't you guys start it?" And they said, "Well, let us study it." Then I went to some of the other black organizations. I said, "Well, here's the plan. Why don't you do it?" "Well, we have study it." And I knew the urgency of the matter. What is there to study?

Leadership from Males and Females

So my idea was not just to have kids playing baseball, but it was a structural game with leadership from males and females and they would be the mentors. Plus I had a tutorial portion added to it where they were required to come to tutorials every night. And really I hadn't plan to spend as much time in it as I did because the idea was I was going to pass it on to these community organizations to run it. But nobody would step up. And I said, we would name the teams after the teams in the Negro Baseball League. Of course, I got pushback. Kids don't know who that is. Well, I know they don't that's why we're going to teach them that. I mean teach them about the Black Yankees, Birmingham Barons, Kansas City Monarchs, and etcetera, Homestead Grays.

So that's how it started. Then I started recruiting people to coach and I knew that they didn't necessarily know anything about baseball. So I coalesced with the Little League here and they had programs to teach people how to coach. Because it wasn't really about winning a baseball game. It was about, are you a good person? Can you mentor these kids? Because a lot of these kids had never been a part of anything organized. And, you know, the fact of the matter is, kids are going to be a part of a group. The only question is whether it's controlled or not. So I was trying to give them a controlled environment to make them study. To make them want to learn. Baseball was simply a carrot to get them in. If I come in and say, "All right kids we're going to have a membership program with tutorial." How many do you think would come in? None. So I raised the money for the baseball team with equipment and etcetera, etcetera. And I had a little bit of credibility in the community so I could do that. [And it was successful.]

Girls Could Play on the Girls' Team or the Boys' Team

It was very successful. The parents told me years later, some kids even got into college playing baseball. It became a feeder for the high school teams. And, it was boys and girls. It wasn't just boys. I had female and male coaches from T-ball on up. So the girls got to play baseball? Of course. They could play on the girls' team or the boys' team, we didn't really care. And that was in the 90's? Yes, it was in the 90's. Were there many girls that played on the boys' teams? A few. So they had to be really good, right? They were good. You know girls and women, they didn't have any bad habits. They were more susceptible to leaving because they had been kept out of certain programs. So just like golf, women can learn to play golf better than men because we have these bad habits playing baseball and different swings, playing tennis. And women do it by the numbers, by the book, and they excel at it.

The Sanlando Greyhounds

You also managed a basketball team and I read that the Sanlando Greyhounds captured the Florida 14 and under state title. Well, we won the state title, I think I started when the kids were 11. We won the state title every year. And that's kind of where I got this idea from. The players on the teams were also good students. So I couldn't advertise. I had to raise money for that also. A lot of these kids were at risk. [They] had never been in a restaurant, had never been on a plane, and we traveled all over the country. We flew to Seattle, Washington, St. Louis, Memphis, Franklin, Kentucky, Louisville, Arkansas. So I couldn't market them as black kids playing basketball. These guys had about a 3.0 GPA also. So people want to give. So that was the whole idea in terms of academics and athletics. Because that's what I did.

Did the kids that were playing actually get to meet you?

Oh, sure. I was there everyday. I was at practice. They knew me. And they knew you were an attorney? Oh, they knew I was attorney, yes. Oh, here it is, "Heaven Sent", I think this was in Orlando Magazine or something. So I was actually involved in it. And you still had your legal practice at the same time, right? And it went lacking some, yes, because this was strictly volunteer. I had to motivate the coaches, motivate the parents, and mostly the parents more than anything else. I had the parents come to the games. They would complain about the coaching. And I said, "Listen, you can't complain about my coaches unless you're willing to volunteer. If you're willing to volunteer, I'll accept your complaint. Because you have to be part of the solution not just crying about the problem. And I also learned something. I learned if people get things for free, if they don't have to put any skin in the game, there's no real appreciation for it. So after that, I asked them to pay $10.00. Just $10.00. Because unless they have to pay something, they think it has no value.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry Archives

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