Petri Hawkins Byrd is the Bailiff on JUDGE JUDY, which has been the #1 show in first-run syndication for 10 consecutive seasons. The Emmy Award-winning program returned for its 24th season on September 9, 2019.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Hawkins Byrd (“Byrd”) received his Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989. During this time, Byrd worked as a court officer in the Brooklyn Family Court system. In 1986, he was transferred to the Manhattan Family Court system, where he worked on a rotating basis with all the judges, including Judge Judith Sheindlin. “I was never bored in her courtroom,” he said. “Her get-to-the-point style didn’t always sit well with the litigants, and there were times she was definitely glad to have me around.”
In 1990, Byrd relocated to San Mateo, Calif., to serve as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshall. Three years later, he accepted an offer to work as a student counselor at Monta Vista High School in Santa Clara, Calif. After reading a story about Judge Sheindlin’s new book and upcoming television show in a 1995 Liz Smith column, Byrd decided to send a letter congratulating the judge, and jokingly asked if she would be interested in having him serve at her side again. To his surprise, Judge Sheindlin returned Byrd’s letter with a phone call and offered him the job.
In addition to his work on JUDGE JUDY, Byrd has appeared numerous times on stage as a stand-up comedian and actor. He has also acted in films, television and commercials, as well as provided voiceover work for radio, television and video games. Byrd’s success has also made him a sought-after motivational speaker. In his spare time, he sings, writes music and poetry.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast, we are so honored to have with us today, Petri Hawkins-Byrd, you know Mister officer Byrd on CBS’s Judge Judy. He is with us today, and thank you for being with us and being so generous with your time today, Petri.
Petri Hawkins-Byrd: Hey, man. Thank you, John. I appreciate the opportunity, man, to be on your podcast. I love this.
John: Hey, we were talking offline before we started taping. It is so much fun when two New Yorkers connect. I am a boy from Queens, you are a kid from Brooklyn. It is just instant chemistry. So it is just so much fun, and it really is an honor to have you on today. Someone with your background, this is going to be a great conversation, and an important conversation as well. But before we get talking about your twenty-five wonderful years on Judge Judy, I would love you first to share, how a young man from Brooklyn ends up in Hollywood and share that journey, leading up to becoming the officer Byrd on the very famous Judge Judy show.
Petri: Man, I got to tell you, if I told you that it was plotted out and I knew I was going to be in Hollywood, a year much less going on twenty-five-years. I would be lying to you, dude.
Petri: Now the funny thing is, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be in a show. When I was a kid, I did a lot of impersonations. I watched a lot of TVs; I watched the old Ed Sullivan Show, Great Calvin, Carol Burnett, [inaudible] show, Bill Cosby Show. I just love TV and probably amongst my favorite performers were impersonators, the impressionist man. I just thought Frank Gorshin, Rich Little, cast like that, just to watch them impersonate famous actors, and of course, our famous actors back then had the bigger than life personalities than these distinctions to their voices. They even all sound cookie cutters. I mean, I could not tell you but, Brad Pitt sounds as opposed to Tom Cruise. But I knew who Cary Grant, what Cary Grant sounded like but Sydney Poitier sounded like what James or Jones and Bill Cosby sounded like. So anyway, I love doing impersonations, I love to sing, I play clarinet in school, and I was in school plays the stuff like that.
Petri: So, all of that was in me.
John: You already had – already a little bit of Hollywood twinkle going on, well, as a young man growing up in Brooklyn.
Petri: Oh, yes.
Petri: But I also had a mother, who was like, “Listen, get your education, at least get your high school diploma, go to college if you can, and get a good job in the post office.”
John: Right, right.
Petri: I always stuck with that, make sure that you had a steady paycheck coming in. To that end, the other thing I wanted to be was – I had the ideation of being a lawyer, right? The thing about that was I was always good at school. So what I did was, I went to college, I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I got a Bachelor’s degree from John Jay. At one point, I found out that my daughter’s mother was pregnant. I said, “Man, I got to get a better job.” So I looked in The Chief, which is the newspaper back home, for civil service jobs and they were giving the court officers test. I took the court officers’ test, passed it with flying colors, and became a court officer.
Now while being a court officer, I happen to work in Manhattan’s Family Court. I taught in the Brooklyn Family Court, got transferred to Manhattan’s Family Court where I met amongst other people one judge, Judith Sheindlin, and I was not exclusively assigned to her but we would rotate in and out of the part, the different parts of the court every month. So, you would go down to the locker room, you would look up there and you would see if you got a good judge or if you were going to have a month of suffering. I always kind of delighted when I would look up there and see that I was assigned to Judge Scheindlin’s part because she was like a comedian. She was like, I once called her the Joan Rivers of the Judicial World Africa. She was like a smart ass. I think the feeling was mutual because I was the officer who would go out and I would do different impersonations in calling the court to order, just for laughs. I would go out and, “The party is on. Members of the judge come here right now because we are going to start to sing”.
John: You took your cue from her. Got it. Wow.
Petri: You know people come up and go, “Hey wait a minute, was there probably just you?” Oh, no that is your imagination go sit down. That is how we came to know each other. And then in 99, that was sort in 1986 to 1990. In 1990, because of some marital issues, my wife at the time, we separated. She moved back out to her native California and I, in turn, got my thing together and followed suit. I moved out to California and that was in 1990. I worked for the US Marshal Service for a couple of years and then I got an opportunity – the third love I always had was working with kids. I used to run a community center, Recreational Center in Brooklyn back in the ’80s and I also worked in a daycare. I always had this thing – some kind of way God always connected me to kids. A friend of mine asked me; would I be interested in becoming a student conduct liaison, which is a long title with short money for a counselor at a high school.
I said, “You know what? I am not really a law enforcement type.” I mean, I worked in the courts and everything like that but I was not like a guy who patrols the neighborhood or anything like that. So I said, “Yes, I will go for the interview,” and I got the job and I started working at Monte Vista High School, which is in Cupertino, California, which is in Silicon Valley in Northern California. I went to work at that high school for about three years and during that time – now mind you, we were just getting to the internet. This school was ahead of its time. I remember Al Gore visited this high school, to talk about the future of the internet and how it would one day affect the world, but at the time, I was just happy to get an email address.
John: Right, right.
Petri: I still have the same email address from twenty-five years ago. Anyway, so one day I happen to be reading the paper and I was reading Liz Smith Scott’s column. Do you remember Liz?
John: I remember Liz Smith, of course.
Petri: I used to read her in the Daily News before I left New York. When I got out to California, the newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, still carried her syndicated column. I have been reading it one day and I get to the bottom of the column and it says, “Oh, congratulations to Judge Judy Scheindlin on her new book, ‘Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It Is Raining’,” I said, “Hmm, I remember that saying. I remember saying that a lot from the bench.” And that they were developing a TV show for her and so I wrote her a letter to congratulate her and using the technology of the time, the swiftest technology of the time which was the fax machine. I found out the fax number to the court, to the judge’s floor and I had a friend of mine who still worked in Manhattan’s Family Court to intercept my letter that I faxed and give it to the judge. In it, it was like, “Hey judge, it could not happen to a more deserving person. I wish you well. PS: if you ever need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”
John: I like it.
Petri: That little joke prompted her to call me. She got my number from a friend of mine back there and she called me one day and she said, “I want to thank you for the letter. You are the first person outside of my family to congratulate me.” She said, “I know you were kidding at the end of your letter but we do need a bailiff. We tried it with the regular actor and it is an unscripted show and we need somebody who understands how I work. As I remember you are kind of crazy.” I said, “Well, I am still kind of crazy.” She said, “Well, if you are crazy enough to try this with me, I will recommend you for the job.” And the rest, as they say, is mystery because the next thing I know they flew me down to L.A., they interviewed me and they told me right there on the spot, “You have the job.” Naturally being a New Yorker, everything is suspect, so I was like, “Well, I will take a leave of absence from the school until I find out if this was going to stick,”
John: Right, right.
Petri: And it stuck for the last twenty-four years, it has stuck.
John: Wow, twenty-four years. What a run and it has become one of the top-rated shows on television of all time, right?
Petri: Yes, man. For a long time, we have been the top-rated daytime TV show, and our ratings are phenomenal, man. I guess people just latched on and stuck with us, where the price is right of court shows.
John: Right, unbelievable. So, you have had twenty-four years, but you are still a young man. When we were little boys, sixty-two or sixty-three people retired, but now, there is a whole new generation of people that work now into their 70s and 80s and stay very relevant. So, what are you thinking? What is next for Petri Hawkins-Byrd?
Petri: Oh dude, well, I am still people man. Right now, with this situation being what it is, well, here is a couple of factors.
Petri: One, we had to shorten by about twelve weeks of the twenty-fourth season of Judge Judy. We had to go, we went into lockdown and so now they are trying to get the show back up in running and that means trying to figure out exactly how we are going to do the show. For twenty-four years, there was no doubt as to how we were going to do it, we did it the same way every year for twenty-four years and now with this damn-demic, we have to look at things in a whole another light. So season twenty-five is on the books. They want to start, they say at the end of next month so at the end of August. They want to start re-taping the show and starting the show up again, but regardless, just before we shut down the Judge infamously went on Ellen and announced that season twenty-five would be her last season of doing Judge Judy with CBS. But she also announced that it was not her plan to retire, that she was not tired yet.
Petri: So she was going to try something that she called Judy Justice, at least tentatively. That is the name of it. What my place is in that, if I have any place in that, is anybody’s guess. When I talked to the judge about it, she said, “Well, I do not know quite what type of structure is going to manifest itself in that show, but I will keep you apprised.” I went, “Okay”, so that seems to me to be a signal that if you find something else that you are interested in doing, I would really, really investigate that. So for me, that has taken the shape of a production company that is interested in developing a show around me and my personality. The only thing I could tell everybody is to stand by, keep your ear to the stone, and something will be coming up, but that is one of the irons that I have in a fire. The other thing that I am doing is I have discovered during this pandemic season, that my wife and I – and my wife is considerably younger than I am, this is definitely a May-December romance with yours truly being the latter part of the year.
John: Got it.
Petri: But we have been on the internet, we have been on IGTV on Instagram with a little show and it is getting pretty popular and people seem to like it. They seem to like interview together.
John: What is the show called?
Petri: The name of the show is “Bonding with Byrds”. So, my wife’s last name on a maiden name was Bond and I am the Byrd so, Bonding with Byrd.
John: I like that.
Petri: Yes, so on Tuesdays – just to give you a brief history. It came about, I started doing this one-minute sort of rants on Instagram every Tuesday and I called it – they have Man Crush Monday, they have Throwback Thursday. I said, “Well, wait a minute. Do you know what they need? They need a thinking Tuesday, man.” That is a West Indian accent. I said, “Yes, I am on it. Exactly, how about – thinking Tuesday? they have got their Wacky Wednesday and a Freaky Friday, you have to have a thinking Tuesday where you think, man.” So I started doing that and then my wife said, “Listen, why do not we just expand it and go on IGTV?” And so now we do an hour on Tuesday and we have, Bonding with Byrd and Thinking Tuesdays at 6 P.M Pacific Standard time.
John: So people can find you – is this online or tell us, where can our listeners find you doing Thinking Tuesdays and Bonding with Byrd?
Petri: This is online. This is on Instagram @ByrdtheBailiff, B-Y-R-D the bailiff, all one word. You just go in there and on Tuesdays at 6 P.M, 9:00 o’clock on.
John: Beautiful. So it is Instagram live @ByrdtheBailiff and also you have a very active Twitter account @ByrdtheBailiff, as well, correct?
Petri: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely, and also I can be found on Facebook at Petri Hawkins Byrd.
Petri: Folks come in there, and check us out. I think you will have a good time, especially with the bonding with Byrd because we discussed hot topic. We have special guests come on, and we interview people.
Petri: It is just me and the wife messing with each other day.
John: That is great.
Petri: We have a good time with it.
John: Petri, talk about – you talk about hot topics and you and I were talking off the air given that we are just two New Yorkers and have instant chemistry and things of such. I was sharing with you that over the weekend, I was just flipping channels and I happened to land on seeing the movie “Do the Right Thing” and I had not seen it for decades. Can you share first of all your experience with regards to growing up in Brooklyn and the issues that were growing up back in the days of New York? I, also in Queens was part of the first integrated schools in a public school in Queens. How was how that growing up as a young African-American Brooklyn? And then jump forward and talk a little bit about black lives matter and where we are today and where we have got to go constructively and productively together. You have a great take on this and I would love you to share that with our audience.
Petri: Well, when you mentioned that, the movie “Do the Right Thing” was made, I believe in 89 and I told you it really – that movie really hit home to me because it was filmed right around the corner. I do not know what the name of the street is now because they changed the names of the streets so much and it is that. But it was once Stuyvesant Avenue and a matter of fact Stuyvesant between Quincy and the next block over which I believe is Lexington. On that block, that was right around the corner from my great grandmother. My great grandmother lived on Quincy Street. So I knew that neighborhood intimately. Spike’s movie was brilliant in that, it made sure to tell the story of race relations in Brooklyn. At that time there had been a number of incidents that happened to African-Americans, one Clifford Glover was a victim of police brutality. There was a show called Crohan Hymn. There was a situation where three young men went out to buy a pizza out in Queens and one of them was running onto the Belt Parkway and subsequently killed. He was hit by a car. Now, the odd thing about that particular incident is that the person who was driving the car who hit him, now mind you this is the Belt Parkway at rush hour, so there is no way to actually tell or plan to hit somebody-
John: Yes, of course.
Petri: -with your vehicle, but the person who hit that individual, who hit the young man who subsequently died. He was a court officer in Manhattan Family Court. I knew him.
John: Oh, my gosh. Wow.
Petri: In fact, for a long time, for almost ten years, he was the main court officer working with Judge Judy Scheindlin and I remember Dominic was a good kid. He was an actor. As far as I was concerned, not a prejudiced bone in his body far from being a racist and I remember there was tension in our locker room at Manhattan Family Court because everybody – I was very outspoken then about black issues. I would go on protest and with Al Sharpton, protesting in racial injustice. Eleonor Bumpurs, being a grandmother who was killed when the police burst into her door and shot her. Michael Stewart, who died in police custody.
John: I remember that.
Petri: Yes, remember he was just arrested for graffiti. So, BNL has spoken, they knew, all the guys knew and they want me three black guys in our locker room at Manhattan Family Court, three black males. I remember everybody, there was tension. So I said, “Dominic, come with me over. I want to talk to you for a second.” And we went off into a room by ourselves. I said, “I have one question for you and all I need is an answer to know where I stand on this issue. Did you mean to run over the young man who was running out onto the Belt Parkway?” Dominic looked at me and I will never forget he had tears in his eyes. He said, “Byrd. Man, it was dusk. I could not tell. I thought I hit an animal.” He said, “I thought I hit an animal. I am on the Belt Parkway, you cannot stop.”
Petri: He said he got home and he heard on the news that this young man had been run over on the Belt Parkway where he had just been and he went with his father. His father was a detective and he went with his father and his father took him back to the precinct over in Howard Beach. That is when he discovered that the young man had died and that it was, in fact, his car that it hit him and I said, “Listen, that is all I need to know. So from now on, anybody asked me about you, I could defend to the death your character because I already knew the answer, okay-
John: That is such a nice thing you did.
Petri: – I just wanted to hear you say it. Come on, man, you know we are New Yorkers, man. We are New Yorkers, we are going to bring it straight to you. ‘You, hey listen, did you fucking driver, you can put the driver warm?’, and you are like, ‘No, I know what to do.’ ‘All right, good enough.’ So now, anybody comes to you, you go, ‘Hey! Listen, he said to you to it. That is enough for me.'”
John: Right. That is how we are.
Petri: Yes, like I said do the right thing foretold. Of course, it kind of called those things that were happening then, okay, and it foretold about what could happen now if we did not deal with it then. What we did as Americans is we sort of ignore it because if you did not see, do the right thing, that was Royalists the movie of the CEO. I did not watch certain television shows or if you thought rap was something that was just a bunch of guys spouting a bunch of words and bragging about their talents and their money.
John: From Hellas.
Petri: Yes, if you did not know anything, if you did not know any better and you do not have any real dealings with the African-American Community, then you thought, “Well, you know, that is a shame that that happened but I do not really know about it.” Well now, these things are being shown to you live. Okay, it is not, “Oh, it happened yesterday, oh, it happened a few hours ago.” It is, we are recording it right now where the world is seeing it right now. If you go on Facebook, this is what is happening right now. If you go on Instagram, this is Instagram, this is happening right now.
Petri: That is why you see all these people of different nationalities and different sexual events and different mindsets and different religions. That is why you see them taking to the street because they are saying, “Listen, if it can happen to those people, if it can happen to Black’s, it can happen to anybody and if it can happen to anybody then none of us are safe.” So, right now–
John: That is basically MLK, he said, “Injustice against anybody is this can tell injustice for all.”
Petri: Right. That is right.
John: So, you are right.
Petri: That is right. That is right, and one of the things that people fail to realize, you get a lot of people that are complaining right now that Black lives matter, Black lives matter. All lives matter and to that I say, “Hey! Listen, all houses matter.” What if one of the houses is on fire, what are you going to do? You going to put out that house so that it does not happen to all the other houses. So in regards to that, Black lives are the lives that are on the fire right now. So, we have to emphasize that Black lives matter, okay. It is not black lives matter more than other lives. No, that is not it. It is not Black lives matter the most for my–
John: For only – do not put the word only after that, right?
Petri: Right. I think my wife said it does. She said, “Maybe we should change it into Black lives matter too or Black lives matter also or Black lives matter elsewhere.”
Petri: During the Summer Rights Era, fighting for civil rights was not just – it was concentrated on Blacks and especially the place of Southern Blacks but if you have a civil rights bill that protects the civil rights of Americans. Okay, and those Americans happened to be Black. Well, guess what by virtue of that bill or that those laws being passed, everybody benefits, everybody. So you do not have to distinguish between Black lives matter and Mexican lives matter and Native American lives matter and gay rights matter. The poet Gil Scott-Heron once said, “Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights are all wrong.” And it was Gil Scott’s way of saying, “Listen, if we fight for human rights, then everybody would benefit, but somebody’s civil rights being violated has to be the catalyst.” It has to be the one that you focus on so that you could say, “Hey! Listen, right now that house is on fire. Let us put out that fire. Okay, and we make the neighborhood safe for all the other houses, for all other people, if we take care of those people.”
John: For our listeners who just joined us, we are so lucky and honored to have with us today Petri Hawkins-Byrd. He is Officer Byrd’s known in Hollywood and for all that watch the great CBS show, Judge Judy, as Officer Byrd. You could find him @ByrdtheBailiff, B-Y-R-D the Bailiff on Twitter and also on Instagram @ByrdtheBailiff where he does is Thinking Tuesday and Bonding with Byrd show and on Instagram live. So, I ask you all to watch that. I am going to read you something. After I watched, Do the Right Thing, I went online of course to try to explore more about the movie because it affected me more this past weekend than it did the first time when I was in the theater because I was a kid from Queens. I grew up, my best friends were African-American. My best friend growing up in grade school was African, I mean, so this was not like you said in the Coast compared to Middle America this was sort of our life but in the maybe you said a lot of people did not see this as much as we saw growing up in Brooklyn Queens. So, I am going to read you what the great late Roger Ebert wrote and I want to just go into this a little bit more here. It said, he said–
Petri: Roger was a man.
John: Right, was not he? He said, “I saw, Do the Right Thing.” He said, “Most movies remain up there on the screen, only a few penetrate your soul.” He said, “I walked out of the screening with tears in my eyes. Spike Lee had done an almost impossible thing. He had made a movie about race in America that empathized with all the participants.” And Petri, I gotta tell you, man, that is stuck with me and I am and I got to tell you and you coming from – prior to becoming a known television in Hollywood star, which you truly are now millions upon millions of people know you, know your name, know your face, know your persona. Twenty-five years, what the long run in Hollywood you have had but you also we are in law enforcement prior to that. You had a very successful career on the other side as well and you are African-American. I find myself a White kid from Queens. I literally, my heart breaks for so many of the participants in my empathy as with all, and like you said, “Where do we move forward together now constructively? How do we create more of these conversations and get more of us onto the playing field to make a better and just America for all?”
Petri: We have conversations like this.
Petri: We have conversations like this. You and I were talking earlier, a lot of people’s perception of who people are is drawn from movies, TV commercials, and shows. The introduction to a certain kind of music, the “N” word, okay. I hate using that because I think what it does is it gives everybody an excuse to pay so much attention to the word as opposed to the power behind the word or the venom behind the word. But I remember that people would always, well, I never heard anybody the entire time I was in New York call me a Nigger. Never heard it, never heard it. Now, if that is what you thought, I am not in a position to control thoughts, okay.
Petri: We are not in a position to change people’s hearts, but if I can break bread with you, if I can live in the same neighborhood with you, if I could come out to your neighborhood to purchase a car and go home unscathed and not menaced, if I can stop in your neighborhood in a certain neighborhood had to buy a pizza and just get that Pizza which I am enjoying. Like everybody else is not trying to enjoy their Pizza. Okay, must be a pretty good place to get Pizza and I am finally out here to get a slice. If I can do that and it is your proximity to me can – somebody said proximity close proximity breeds understanding and separateness breeds mistrust. So we have to come in contact with each other. We have to come in contact with each other. We have to come to an understanding of the things that offend us, and why they offend us.
John: A point.
Petri: If you are if you were hanging a Confederate flag outside of your door, and it is waving in the wind, you think, “Well, hey, it is just the flag and it has to do with my Southern roots. I am from Tennessee, you know.” But if I come to you or if I say to you, “Hey! Listen, I was wondering if you would not mind looking at this short clip on the history of the Confederate flag.” All right. Well once you see that history, once you understand that it a symbol of hate, once you understand that it was constructed as a symbol of hate, then you have a choice to make. You have a choice to make, whether or not you want to represent that flag. Okay, never mind the flag representing you. You have a choice as to whether you want to represent that flag but that comes, John, with knowledge. It comes with knowledge. It comes with having proximity to one another. You and I, we grew up in a place, it is not New York is perfect and a monkey of eight million people. Everybody loves one another. We had neighborhoods that were pretty much segregated but they were segregated by choice. They were segregated because that is where most people gathered in that particular neighborhood.
But I never felt really in New York like there was a place that was off-limits to me. I went over in Bensonhurst and different neighborhoods in Brooklyn to go shopping. They had great clothing stores and great deals out there, and so I went there. I went out to King’s father to go shopping. There was not a place in Queens that I did not go to. If had a friend that lived there, I went there. One of the things that we always have to do is we have to realize that we are all occupants on the same planet and we are all sort of journalists here. We are all passing through. We are born and if we get the three scores and ten that the Bible says if we get seventy years here, we are good.
John: Right. What a blessing.
Petri: Yes, over seventy years, we are blessed, we are on overtime.
John: Overtime – I love what you just said that. I love it. It is so true, though.
Petri: Right, and so while we are here, what difference does it make where that guy is coming from or where that guy, we are on the same train. What are we looking at each other for? What we mean mugging each other for? For what?
John: Yes, for what.
Petri: We do not own the train. We are on the train for a certain distance. We go from stop to stop and we get on about our business. If more people just kind of understood that that guy over there is trying to raise his family and he is trying to keep his job and he is trying to make ends meet and every round and he wants to save up his money and go on a little vacation or take his wife for a date, that makes him more me than it makes us apart. We have more in common than we have than we are different right?
John: Right. That is true.
Petri: I just really would like to say that if we would just take the time take the time to get to know one another and to know that no, it is not that LeBron James or Michael Jordan or Serena Williams or this actress or that actress or this singer is special? Yes, they got a special talent, that kind of separates them from the regular Joe’s but those individuals I mentioned our black just like me. I have offered the world, but when you are afraid of me and when you are so afraid of me that you see me as a threat as opposed to somebody who is just trying to walk out his life and peace and stuff then that is where we have a problem. And that is where the whole country suffers because we believe the hype of some people as opposed to what we experience every day with people.
John: That is the truth. You speak the truth, my friend and that is a good way and a healthy way of looking at its proximity and closeness.
John: It makes you feel even closer, my best friend growing up was Alonzo Brian, my parents were divorced. I felt the safest when I got the sleepover in Alonzo’s house and I felt his mom Audrey was my mom and his father. Joseph was my dad and there was the safest house to be in. That is how I thought it was just supposed to be in this world. I did not, I just and I felt that was my happiest part of my childhood being with their family and spending time with them. So it is just funny though like you said a lot of the country does not get to grow up the way we had unique circumstances in Brooklyn and Quincy in the time that we did which is very similar, we are about the same age. It is just so interesting, but I am so grateful for your important wisdom and vision on this it is and you have a unique one given all of your history and both in law enforcement and as a person who has a platform, who is a star in his own right and I am very grateful for that. I do not leave today’s show without talking about your OK Foundation, that is important stuff can you share with our listeners? What are you doing with Byrd OK Foundation?
Petri: Well, here is the deal that the– okay, so the neon program is actually the OK Program and it is a black-male mentoring program. It is a black-male mentoring program that was started in 1990 by gentlemen from Ashdown, Arkansas named Donald Norcross and he was a deputy sheriff in Sacramento and he kept seeing, while he was a deputy sheriff he kept seeing an inordinate amount of young African-American males going into the penal system and into the jail system, but not emerging, unstable. Then be problematic for him and he kept saying, somebody ought to do something about this somebody ought to do something about it and his wife took them one night. He said and just said, “Yes, you know what that someone is you, you keep asking the question. Obviously, you are the one that is supposed to come up with the answer.” He started involving himself with young black men ages twelve to eighteen and started meeting with them on a regular basis on Saturdays. The school would allow him to utilize their all-purpose rooms and to gather young African-American males together and to have what he calls kick its sessions and be able to engage them in conversations about their lives and what they face every day.
The program started to expand by I would say by the year 2000 he had affected the lives of over a thousand young African-American males. He would encourage them to have good grades 2.5-grade point average or better to have perfect attendance to continue coming to kick it sessions and they would be rewarded by having these trips at the end of the year. He started to expand the program of the other communities started noticing how effective the OK Program was and so he replicated it in different cities around the country up to ten different chapters of the OK Program today in places Indianapolis, Little Rock, Arkansas, Oakland California. At the Hub of the program, it uses that utilizes black officers to mentor young black boys. In essence, the OK Program has become a link of the bridge if you will between the black community and law enforcement by utilizing black officers from law enforcement to effect change in their community.
They bring a number of teammates along with them and those teammates are drawn out of the community also generally out of the church. But any men who find themselves of wanting to help out in venturing join forces with that officer or those officers who act the Hub of the program and a joint they join with them to effectively mentor young black boys. It is a wonderful program and it continues to do in that boy scout, girl scout type of way, with positive peer groups influence, and today most of the participants in the OK Program have not succumbed to the Grim statistics that face African-American males, fifty percent dropout rate, fifty percent incarceration rate. The fact that the number one killer of young African-American males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four is homicide. Unfortunately, homicide at the hands of somebody that looks them. The OK Program seeks to turn those grim statistics around by the use of positive peer group influence.
John: Where can people find this great organization, Petri?
Petri: They can go online to OK, the letters okprogram.org-
John: Got it.
John: They can and they could mentor an African-American, young African-American…
Petri: Well, they can find that, one they could find out about the OK Program that is near them or right they can go in, and contact the director of the Okay Program. If they think that they would start an OK chapter in their community.
John: Wow. I love that.
Petri: Let me also say this, they can also contribute to the program. Of course, is not necessarily a popular thing. So, we find ourselves constantly in need of funding, so they can make a donation to the OK Program. But like I said, one of the first things the Bible says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And so one of the first things we must always do even when you have something as wonderful as the OK Program is going in this day and age the answer to almost every question is right there in the palm of your hand. I cannot emphasize enough that telephone, if you have any kind of connection, through any type of service you have access to the world wide web. When you are giving us some information or give it spike to go and check out something going there and investigated fully. I encourage people first to learn about programs like OK Program and then ask yourself, “Well, what can I do? How can I get involved?” I got to tell you, John, that is what I hear from people more now than ever before is amazing. I have been on this planet, sixty-three years, my consciousness about world affairs and about civil rights affairs and stuff in this country. I have been aware that since I was eleven, twelve years old, but this is a different time. This is a different time because of the access that we have two other communities, other people to each other. I think it was, I think it might have been George Carlin that said the Paradox of all time is, “We can communicate with people around the world in an instant and we do not know who the person is that lives next door to us.”
John: So true.
Petri: So, I implore your listeners that, listen, you have access to communication, you have access to information that is unparalleled in our time, use it to educate yourself to gain knowledge. Not that knowledge that puffs up but the knowledge that leads to wisdom as to how to best use that knowledge to create a better world. It is within our grasp and if we do not take advantage of the advantage of it then shames on us.
John: Man, I am so glad you came on today, Petri your message of creating a better world and of leveraging the technology as you say is in the palm of our hand is so simple, but sometimes yet so ignored and I am so grateful for you emphasizing that important message today. We are living in interesting times and the world needs more great people like you that can continue to message the message and carry on were great, great people have just left off or life are coming just left off. We just lost John Lewis and I had just watched the weekend before could trouble. I will tell you what for our listeners out there to watch a real icon who dedicated his life to the message that Petri has been giving today. Again, that is a life of service that he dedicated. I mean just pure public servant with all the right intentions from a young man. I did not realize how young he was. I did not realize he was the youngest speaker in the mall the day the march of the mall. When MLK gave his famous music I did not realize he was the youngest speaker that day. It is such a great movie good trouble–
Petri: If you need at something and he is the living embodiment that is never too early, it is never too early. Unfortunately, childhoods are being shortened, daily, and what I mean by that is not just by, pandemics and different things like that. But that that we have to grow up, we have to almost grow up faster because the evil is not going to wait for us to get to come of age. The thing, evil is going to happen right now and so as soon as possible, we have to get our children on to the fact that, they have a place in this world and they have a purpose in this world. Once we get them to understand that that purpose is to make of his to make a better world then whatever contribution they can make at whatever time is important. The word says, “And a child shall lead them.” But we have to mentally and emotionally and spiritually prepare our children to take over, as soon as possible because God knows we have screwed up enough.
John: So yes, well, Petri I have been blessed today to have you on our show. You are always invited back here to share any of the projects that you are working on and all the important work and using your celebrity to continue to share the good word and for our listeners out there who want to connect with Petri known as Officer Byrd on CBS’s Judge Judy and they are about to go film their 25th season together. You can find them @ByrdtheBailiff and BYRD is B-Y-R-D, Bryd the Bailiff on Twitter and also you could catch him on Bonding with Byrd on Instagram live on Byrd the Bailiff which he is on Instagram with his wife doing Bonding with Byrd on Instagram live. You are the reason why I do this show Petri to have great people you that use their knowledge and their history and their platform to make an impact and make the better place. Thank you for being honest today. I am thank you.
Petri: John, I just want to say man when they told me I was going on with you. My first reaction was John who? No.
John: That is okay.
Petri: No, but on the real, I do interviews, do a bunch of interviews every year, and every now and then something stops me in my tracks and I am going to tell you right now John you stop me in my tracks, man. Just a brief conversation I had with you before we came on on your podcast. I felt at home with you man, I felt at home with you. You have done exactly what you told me your son told you to do, it is just your–
John: They got out of the way and let you do thing, man.
Petri: Just get out of the way, but the nice part is that when you do come in, that is an art brother, that is an art. Very few people, Carson was one of the kings of that, just be able to allow you to say your thing and do your stuff and but had enough of a personality and I am going to give you that one. You got enough personality man to carry the conversation to make your guests feel welcome and at home and at ease, man continues to do that man. You are a blessing man, you are a blessing man.
John: Thank you Petri for that, but you are always welcome back here, this is your home.
Petri: I will be back.
John: This is why I do the show you come back and when we get through this COVID crazy period. We will come to LA and you and I going to get together and I get to give you a hug in person and we get to connect in person. Okay?
Petri: Well, man when I am back home and I will be looking for you. I will be letting you know, okay?
John: All right. That is a deal with this.
Petri: We will go get it to slice.
John: We will go get a slice at Sal’s Pizza together, and then continued success in the 25th season continued success with Bonding with the Byrd. Thank you for your dedication and Servin see with the OK Foundation and again, you are always welcome back here. Thank you for the generosity of your time today.
Petri: It has a blessing, brother. Bye-bye.