Anything But Average
Kelly Ann Ramsey is a go-getter, an overachiever, the kid in class who ‘sets the curve’. People of this type have a tendency to compel others to do one of two things: raise their standards and output to meet them on their higher level, or try to knock them down to their own lower level.
“I’ve heard it my whole life, ‘You’re making everybody look bad, Kelly,’” she says, in a whiny, bratty voice. “I have struggled with that my whole life.”
How does that struggle affect Ramsey’s ability to do her job the way she wants?
“I sometimes have trouble with people I work with. I do. I’m never the gal that gets asked out to lunch with the group. I’m always working hard, never off the bench early.”
As her frustration mounted regarding interpersonal dealings at work, she turned to a mentor.
“I had a particularly hard day and vented to my boss at the time, who is like a surrogate father figure to me, about the problems I was having dealing with people at the office. He said to me ‘Kelly, you’re too pretty and too smart. People will be taking pot shots at you for the rest of your life.’”
The message resonated.
“I was 20 or 21 years old at the time. I’ve had to repeat his words to myself my entire life.”
Ramsey sighs, “There’s a lot of politics involved.”
Does she have any regrets?
“I’ve often wondered,” she offers, “if I did the right thing by leaving the prosecutor’s office. When I became the chief referee at juvenile court, I just worked non-stop. I quit doing Tai Chi and hot yoga. My daughter still scolds me about it.”
Ramsey’s goal is to capture enough hearts and minds to secure the votes needed to win a seat as a judge in Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court. She lost the election in 2012, but Kelly Ann Ramsey doesn’t allow a loss to deflate her spirit for long.
“When I lost the 2012 election, did I scold myself because I lost? I was sad, I cried, I cried. I was disappointed. But I also could not say that I should have worked harder, because my entire life I’ve held the expectation for myself that I will always do the best I can to become the best I can possibly become.”
Ramsey recalls a poem, Are You Average?, which impacted her life.
“It was first given to me when I was about 19 years old and it impacted my life,” she says. “It reminded me of the core values taught to me by my parents. I carried that poem with me to work on January 6, 1992, the day I started my job as a referee.”
The sixth item in the assignment folder is a letter on choosing one’s own attitude, and the importance of being in charge of that attitude. This is followed by Are You Average?, which ends with the statement “to be ‘average’ is to commit the greatest crime one can against oneself”. The poem is followed by a story which teaches the payoff of moving toward goals and aspirations one day at a time, one step at a time.
The Most Important Job In The World
“We cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree, Leadership is an Art
Max DePree is an American businessman, and author of Leadership is an Art, which sold over 800,000 copies. DePree fostered the idea of an inclusive corporation, one in which all voices are heard. He was known for his efforts to combine a caring organization with business success.
As opposed to the idea of a golden parachute, DePree proposed the idea of a silver parachute, in which terminated employees who had worked more than two years for a company would receive benefits according to the number of years served. He encouraged open communication in the organization. He was often heard to say “Err on the side of over-communication.”
In late September 2016, Kelly Ann Ramsey attended the Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Summit, a national summit for communities addressing previously untested sexual assault evidence kits and subsequent cold case investigations. Much like Max DePree, she chose to err on the side of over-communication at the event.
“Are we looking at a bigger problem based on what we’re feeding our children? My personal response is…I think so,” she stated at the conference.
Ramsey met two Washington State Representatives during the four-day event, and they kept bumping into one another, exchanging thoughts.
“This is a great conference,” she said to the reps, “and I understand how people have been victimized…but I don’t know how it will get any better when we continue to feed our children sex, drugs, money and violence.
“When twelve-year olds are playing video games and they can shoot and kill the police, buy and sell drugs, carjack, and the winner is rewarded with a prostitute, and we’re at a conference addressing sexual abuse in our society, you gotta start before the end.”
Maryann Bruder, who represents abused and neglected or delinquent children, wrote a letter to Governor Rick Snyder on September 1, 2016, urging him — begging him — to appoint Ramsey to the vacancy on the Third Circuit Court bench.
“One day,” Bruder writes, “I came across a woman who was walking up and down the court’s hallways, looking through the window of every courtroom door she passed, crying. I stopped to ask her how I could help. ‘Please find Referee Ramsey for me, I need more help with my son.’ I called Referee Ramsey at home and asked if she would get in contact with this woman. I’m certain she did.”
Ramsey confirms, she did.
“I only wish,” Bruder’s letter finishes, “that we had been in Referee Ramsey’s hands when my brothers and I were children.”
Bruder grew up ‘in the system’. She and her siblings were removed from their biological parents at a young age and fell victim to an overtaxed system. Bruder became a permanent court ward and a victim of a failed adoption.
“I vowed then,” Bruder states in her letter, “to become an attorney to make a difference in the lives of children.”
Imagine Bruder’s surprise to learn how many of those entrusted with the lives of others couldn’t care less about making a difference, whether it be in the life of a child or the system itself.
“Way too many people,” Bruder testifies in her letter, “many in high places, simply lay back, shrug their shoulders, and watch the system continue to crumble, muttering lame excuses that ‘it is what it is, always has been’, and there is nothing they can do about it.
“Referee Ramsey does no such thing.”
Ramsey talks about how grateful she is that Bruder championed on her behalf, and elaborates on Bruder’s message.
“It brings up the entire point that, when you get up on stage and say ‘Fuck the rules!’, what kind of behavior are we modeling for our children? All children are our children.”
Ramsey is referring to a recent concert at the Fox Theater in Detroit, headlined by Atlanta rapper Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, professionally known as ‘Future’.
Wilburn has released several singles certified gold or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America, including, but not limited to, “Move That Dope”, “Fuck Up Some Commas”, and “Low Life”. He has followed his dreams, and has tasted success.
But Wilburn has also fathered four children with four different women, and as of 2016 is being sued by two of those women. One of the women, who is suing Wilburn for his failure to pay child support, stated that their son “suffers from emotional and behavioral issues stemming from Wilburn’s neglect as a father”. The other woman is suing him for defamation, slander, and libel.
“We’ve become such a loose society,” Ramsey laments. “We’re overly concerned with being a friend to our child.”
So what do we do?
In a recent speech she gave at a senior center, Ramsey told the audience, “This is always my message for our children: Am I mad about the stolen car? Yes, I am. Am I mad about how you treated your neighbor? Yes. But I am angrier when you’re not in school. You’re wasting your talent and your ability.”
Ramsey has the love Wayne County needs now.
“In my courtroom, I say ‘Children, you have more talent and ability than you could possibly imagine.” She adds, “Being smart is a job — you’ve got to show up for that job.’”
The Root Of The Problem
Kelly Ann Ramsey’s thoughts drift to some of the many cases she’s adjudicated.
“I find some of what’s happening in the world heartbreaking,” she says. “I can hear somebody’s story, when I’m on the bench and have to be neutral, and really have to take that deep breath to not cry. There are horrible circumstances in the world that bring tears to my eyes.”
It’s not always a horrific story that makes Ramsey tear up.
“I can cry over a really good book, too.”
The third thing in Ramsey’s assignment folder is a list of book suggestions for every grade level, from pre-school and kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade.
Ramsey understands what bestselling author Neil Strauss wrote in his piece “Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear” for Rolling Stone.
Strauss writes, “If people change their cultural inputs, their outputs will change too….This doesn’t mean that we should completely unplug, live in ignorance and accept…all the other problems in our world….The goal is to separate real threats from manufactured ones. And to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we aren’t taking steps to protect ourselves.”
Ramsey speaks more about her talks at the DNA rape kit conference.
“While the two legislators from the state of Washington and I were engaged in conversation about ‘what a wonderful conference’ it was, I agreed, but until we deal with the reasons why we are in this predicament…”
After a pregnant pause, she continues, “Yes, we’re bringing honor to the victims. We’re doing what needs to be done. We’re dealing with it, they deserve to go forward. But we’re not gonna solve sexual violence in this country if we continue to have rap songs that talk about ‘bitches and hoes’, music videos which are softcore porn for practical purposes, video games of ‘here’s the prostitute’…”
Ramsey has been ushering for twenty-five years in and around the city of Detroit. Working as an usher has become another way for her to connect with the community, along with staying informed about shifting cultural tastes and preferences.
“At the Future concert at the Fox [Theater], one of the performers gets up and says ‘Fuck the rules!’ and lights a joint up on stage. And the audience did the same.” Ramsey shakes her head, “It creates, in my opinion, an absolute slap across the face to the beauty of that building when everybody’s crushing a joint into the floor with their feet.
“Why was he invited back a couple months later?”
When asked why she volunteers to usher at events which obviously displease her and offend her value system, Ramsey says it’s all part of being a good judge.
“I volunteer to usher because when I speak publicly to our teenagers, I can’t speculate,” she says. “I have to be able to say ‘I attended the Future concert, so don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was there.’”
Foul-mouthed, rule-breaking rappers from Atlanta aren’t her only target.
“I don’t wanna just pick on Future. Let’s pick on our professional athletes and other celebrities. There are all kinds of children across this country, with tattoos up their neck and on their hands, that can’t get a job,” says Ramsey. “I think that there needs to be a much greater social responsibility, especially in our sports figures and our entertainment figures and our children’s idols.”
What does Ramsey enjoy for entertainment?
“I love to watch The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, any of those shows that talk about ‘I’m best, I’m gonna do it, I want to be the winner.’”
But even the shows Ramsey enjoys don’t hold water under her scrutiny.
“It’s all I can do to not take a pen to paper and write an editorial about Mel B. throwing pop on Simon Cowell,” she explains. “Simon digs in, makes a funny comment, most likely inappropriate, and more than once there has been a scene where Mel B. takes her pop or water, and they run around like they’re seven- or eight-year old children.”
While many would dismiss it as a playful act, Ramsey does not.
“Here’s the point: they’re celebrities, and this is a show that the seven-year old, the ten-year old, the thirteen-year old, are watching.” Much like her courtroom speeches, Ramsey’s feelings regarding celebrities’ contributions to the cultural climate are succinct. “I think celebrities need to be mindful that kids are going to duplicate that behavior in the fourth grade, when it isn’t funny.”