BAR Awards Profile – Rickye McKoy-Mitchell ’81

2008 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumna Award
Rickye McKoy-Mitchell ’81

A young boy about 14 years old came before Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell ’81 in Mecklenburg County’s juvenile court last summer. After he expressed remorse for what he’d done, the judge asked him why he was wearing a t-shirt with a big picture of Sean “Diddy” Combs. The boy replied that Diddy was a powerful and successful man; he went to college and was an entrepreneur with his own clothing line, TV show and restaurants. Rickye said, “You obviously look up to him and admire him. Why not model your actions after him so you can be the next Diddy?”

That, says Andrea McAfee Covington ’05, is characteristic of Rickye’s ability to connect personally and directly with young people and encourage them, regardless of their immediate situation, to help them make their lives into success stories. Covington, who has known and looked up to Rickye her whole life, was inspired by her to go to law school and served as her law clerk last summer.

Rickye herself says that she wants “youth who are bombarded with potentially overwhelming pressures to see all their possibilities.” But her commitment to helping people achieve their potential goes far beyond her work as a juvenile court judge. She has, for instance, created a Lunch with a Lawyer program that lets eighth graders shadow attorneys as they work in the court system. She serves as co-chair of the Z. Smith Reynolds Advisory Panel, which brings the resources of that philanthropic organization to bear on issues that affect the whole state. She spearheaded a project that brought judges together — something that happens rarely — to develop collegial relationships and increase their personal awareness about how race and ethnicity affect their roles as community leaders. She is a devoted mother and an active leader in her church.

She has worked in many ways to fill voids: for example, by developing communication workshops for parents and teens and setting up informal mentoring relationships for foster children. In much of her service on board and committees, she strives to, in her words, “enlighten and challenge the ‘powerbrokers’ to be more inclusive and non-traditional in their approaches in empowering the entire community.”

Rickye earned both her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her law degree at Carolina. She practiced criminal and civil law at state and federal levels before becoming a judge. But even as her career progressed and her professional and civic involvement grew, she has remained steadily committed to the Black Alumni Reunion, to the Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and to the University. Rickye currently serves on the board of directors of the UNC Law Alumni Association and is a former member of the Board of Visitors. As Rosa McAfee ’75 (Andrea’s mother) says, once Rickye forms a relationship, “you can count on her for years and years to come. She’s engaged and she’s going to be engaged until she dies.”

Rickye is highly regarded by her colleagues and by civic leaders, says Dianne English ’65, who directs Charlotte’s Community Building Initiative. She has the capacity to create an environment in which people feel free to question and to connect with one another, Dianne says. Those who work with her are struck by her curiosity, her character and compassion, her commitment to service and community, her tenacity and her candor.

When you meet her, says Rosa McAfee, you immediately come away with a sense of high integrity, then a sense of caring and warmth. Andrea McAfee Covington says that “it is her humble spirit, passion and personal level of commitment that are truly amazing.”

Rickye is fond of quoting Luke: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. …” Much may have been asked of Rickye McKoy-Mitchell, but she has given even more.