55th Graduation Ceremony of the Greater Cleveland Drug Court
Our second event for Wednesday, July 26th, was the 55th Graduation Ceremony of the Greater Cleveland Drug Court which took place in the Jury Assembly Room on the 4th Floor of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Ontario Street.
We were seated by Ms. Ramona Benson, the Project Manager/Grant Administrator of the Cleveland Municipal Court, who was very helpful in terms of answering our questions about the Drug Court, which was formed in 1998, and its history.
Before the ceremonies started, we visited for a moment with 8th District Appeals Court Anita Laster Mays who used to preside over the Drug Court when she was a Municipal Court Judge and loved it. We learned that the graduation ceremonies usually take place three times a year in February, July and October and the number of graduates varied between 15 and 35 each time. Judge Laster Mays recalled that in her tenure on the Drug Court she had to deal with one foreign-born person who was participating in the program before he was picked up by ICE. Subsequently, Dr. Daryl D. Jackson, the Drug Court Program Coordinator, had to go to the person's hearing and explain the Drug Court program. As it turned out, the person was not deported and he completed the program and continued to put his life together. As of now, he is a successful local businessperson.
Soon the ceremony began with a welcome by Cleveland Municipal Judge Lauren C. Moore who now presides over the Drug Court followed by the day's 24 graduates marching in to a version of "Pomp and Circumstance" with a rock twist played via a recording.
An inspirational video was then screened in honor of the accomplishments of Ms. Valerie "Val" Davis, a Drug Court graduate who went on to work for 15 years at the front desk of the probation department where she was loved and admired by all. Ms. Davis was deservingly upheld as someone who got sober and stayed sober and became a contributing member of our society. Sadly, Ms. Davis passed in May, 2017 and couldn't be with us although members of her family were on hand and Chief Probation Officer Mr. Dean Jenkins testified as to what a fine employee Ms. Davis was and how much she meant to him.
The keynote address was given by our good friend Ohio State Senator Kenny Yuko (Democrat-District 25) who recently received cancer treatments and is doing quite well. Senator Yuko therefore referred to his own experience as he urged the graduates to be close to their families, trust in the Lord and not be afraid to ask for help. He went on to uphold the work of the judges of Cuyahoga County who not only pass judgment but offer encouragement and constructive pathways like the Drug Court as an alternative to jail and, most importantly, as a way of turning one's life around for the better which can be quite a challenge. Subsequently, Senator Yuko expressed great admiration for the Drug Court graduates and their families who supported them during a very trying time.
Along these lines, Senator Yuko acknowledged that we are in the midst of an opiate crisis and pledged to do all that he could as an elected official to secure funding for both treatment programs and education regarding the dangers of chemical dependency.
Judge Moore then called for a motion for the dismissal of the drug charges against the graduates and the sealing of their records which was made by a representative from the Public Defender's office.
It was then time for what we were all there for which was the graduation. Each of the graduates was called forward and was given an opportunity to say a few words before being personally congratulated by such dignitaries as Senator Yuko, Judge Mays, Judge Gayle Williams-Byers (South Euclid Municipal Court), Ms. Beverly Charles representing U.S. Congressperson Marcia Fudge (Democrat-Ohio's 11th District) and Judges Ronald B. Adrine, Janet Rath Colaluca, Jimmy L. Jackson, Jr., and, of course, Judge Moore all from the Cleveland Municipal Court. Citations were also distributed to all of the graduates from U.S. Congressperson Fudge, County Executive Armond Budish, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson as well as both the Cuyahoga County Council and the Cleveland City Council as a whole.
It was our observation that the graduates were mostly younger people, although there were a several older ones, of multiple race and ethnicity which demonstrates how encompassing the problem of chemical dependency has become. During their short presentations, most of them thanked the Drug Court for offering them a second chance, their drug counselors who often had to contend with a lot of bad behavior and certainly their loved ones for standing by them.
The ceremony ended with special accolades presented to such people as Dr. Daryl D. Jackson who will be resigning as Program Coordinator after 8 years of service. Judge Moore observed that whoever replaces Dr. Jackson will have "big shoes to fill."
All of the graduates were also presented with a special key chain with a note attached. After the ceremonies, we examined the note which read in part, "by holding the key chain in your hand so that it reads either ME or WE, and then turning it bottom to top, you will notice that the ME becomes WE, and the WE becomes ME. This is intended to be a reminder that the choices each of make regarding the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs not only affects our lives, but the lives of those around us."
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC