Milwaukee Talks: Judge Derek Mosley
OMC: Where did you grow up?
DM: I grew up in Chicago. My dad worked for the phone company and my mom was an administrative assistant. They were very supportive of me. I have a sister who's a stay-at-home mom and stand-up comic in Chicago. We were a middle class family. I went to Catholic schools. Sorry, no big drama. But my worst-kept secret is that I'm a Bears fan.
OMC: What's it like being a Bears fan in Packerland?
DM: It's total hell, but like I tell Packers fans, if you moved to Chicago, would you become a Bears fan? Enough said.
OMC: You're married and have kids, right?
DM: Yes, I've been married to Kelly for 12 years. We have two little girls: Kallan is 7 and Kieran is 4. We live on the Northwest Side – I love it. Very diverse.
OMC: What is the best part of your job?
DM: When I'm pumping gas or at a restaurant or bar and someone walks up to me and says, 'Thank you. You gave me a second chance.' I get to effectuate change in people. Or at least make it easier for them to make a change in their lives. The best part is making a difference in Milwaukee. I haven't opened a new restaurant, art gallery, or bar/club, but hopefully what I do makes the quality of life better in Milwaukee, so those places can thrive.
I love that my job affords me the opportunity to officiate weddings. I do about 40 or so a year all over the state. Weddings allow me to truly be myself and hopefully bring happiness to two families. Great way to spend a weekend.
OMC: So what's the worst part of the job?
DM: The worst part is dealing with a system that is not equipped to handle people with mental illness. They are often perceived as being disrespectful, but if you have an untreated mental illness and you can't control your impulses, giving you a ticket doesn't help. Without viable treatment options, it can become a revolving door.
OMC: You see a lot of kids, too, right?
DM: Yes. There are so many kids in this city who live in such terrible situations, who really don't stand a chance due to no fault of their own. I've mentored a lot of kids who are responsible for finding their own food for themselves and often their siblings, too. Many of these kids always operate in survival mode, with their guards up because no one cares. Either they don't know how to be parents or don't care. Either way, I want to break the cycle of poverty and hardship – I want to stop it – but I can't do that from the bench. By the time I see them professionally the crime has already been done, so I use mentoring to meet these kids before they commit the crime.
To the world we are just one person, but to one person we can be the world.
OMC: What groups do you work with?
DM: I'm the president of the board of the YMCA urban campuses. I'm also on the board for the TransCenter for youth, Lad Lake/St. Rose Center, the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, and I also serve in an advisory capacity to a great youth program called True Skool. I mentor a number of youth, one of whom I met here. He wasn't going to school and his mother thought he was just cutting out to be with his friends, but when I took him into my office and talked to the kid, it turned out he wasn't going because he was threatened by a gang member for dating his girlfriend. Mentoring him has completely changed his life. He is doing very well.
I also work with a lot of people to help them get their driver's license. A lot of jobs are west of the city, and you can't get there without a license.
Also, I'm really involved with the Fatherhood Initiative, a group which helps dads just starting to be a part of their kids' lives. I bring my own daughters to these events, so these dads see I'm with them. There's no book on how to be a good dad. It's tough. We learn many of these skills from emulating others. That's how I learned to be a good dad, by watching how my father did it.
OMC: You have become a go-to guy for restaurant recommendations. What are your thoughts on the Milwaukee food scene? What are you favorite restaurants?
DM: (Laughing) I love to eat. Milwaukee's food scene is amazing for a city of its size. I generally only eat at local establishments. I'm not a big chain restaurant guy. Whether its BBQ, steak, tapas, seafood, sushi, farm to table, food truck, soul, soups, pho, ethnic or gastropub. We have it all here in non-chain local form, and it's often healthier and less expensive than their chain counterparts. Some of my favorites are Braise, Carnevor, Odd Duck, Carini's La Conca D'oro, Paje, Smoke Shack, La Merenda, Mack's Southern Sweets & Café, Pass da Peas, Ashley's Que and Mr. Perkins to name a few. I could probably name 20 more.
OMC: What advice do you have for those of us who want to "help" Milwaukee get stronger?
DM: I'd like to flip the makers versus takers script from the last election. I want people to ask themselves what are they doing to make Milwaukee a better place or do they fall into the category of taking from what all Milwaukee has to offer with no give back. Do you take advantage of Milwaukee having professional sports, great theater, great nightlife, great museums, great ethnic festivals and concerts but then do nothing to make Milwaukee a better city? I'm not asking a lot.
Mentor – I would suggest the YMCA's Sponsor-A-Scholar Program – join a non-profit board in the city, volunteer at St. Ben's, join your neighborhood association, etc. All non-profit organizations need money to operate, but most need human capital, as well. Little things that can make a big difference.
OMC: Is Milwaukee a good city for African-Americans to live in? What are your thoughts on Milwaukee in general?
DM: I believe for some it is, however there are many things that need to change before I can give you a definite yes answer. Everything from schools, parental involvement and engagement, jobs, citizen / police relations, etc., but I love the potential of this city and I love all the great things going on here. There is no other place I would choose to live. Milwaukee has been very good to me.
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I met Derek around 11 years ago and I can say with confidence that he is not only a great judge, but a wonderful, warm human being as well. I am proud to call you my friend, Derek. Happy Holidays to you and your family! Richard Kerhin
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