Ask anyone who's sat in Judge Walter Williams's courtroom about their experience, and they'll likely tell you it was a "one and done" encounter.
"When people would come into the courtroom and see me, they had a tendency to respond with, 'Oh lord, he's here!'" Williams recalled. "I was fine with that idea: that they don't know what I might do. That's the way it should be, because we want to stop them at the first offense and try to correct the problem."
In his 12 years on the bench as a Chattanooga city court judge, his no-nonsense, earnest approach brought controversy and praise as his methods for correction included traditional and unconventional means.
On Dec. 18, the Psi Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity honored Williams for 50 years of membership, noting in particular the work he did in the courtroom to uphold the values noted in its mission statement of "developing leaders, promoting brotherhood and academic excellence while providing service and advocacy for the community."
The fraternity Inc. is the first intercollegiate historically African American fraternity, and has worked to help young Black men grow to be successful in their educations and to become leaders in their communities.
"We consider Judge Williams iconic," chapter president Van Hinton said. "His efforts as a leader in the community truly have been measured and recorded appropriately with his judgeship and the committees he's served on, and then to still have him here to provide wisdom to us, is equally significant because it's the past meeting the present and forging the future."
Williams first took the bench in 1991. He said he helped reduce repeat offenders in city court by more than 50% during his tenure, and he said that 898 people have received their GED since his time in office as a result of his work, a record he says that many judges combined cannot match.
"I believe that's an achievement in and of itself," Williams said.
Williams was initiated into the Psi Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity 50 years ago.
"I have tried to perform my duties to the best of my ability and uphold the ideals of the fraternity," he said. "No matter where I was located or at in life, I've tried to uplift my fellow man and admonish them that there's a better way of doing things other than resolving them in a criminal fashion."
In his work, above all else, Williams always stressed to people both in and out of court that they needed to get an education.
"If we plan to get ourselves out of the dilemma we find ourselves in, educating ourselves is a must," he said.
The fraternity chapter strives to provide scholarships and promote higher education for young men in the community, according to Hinton. Members mentor and coach young men and aim to see them get into college and earn a degree.
"Judge Williams is really a King Solomon in our generation," Hinton said. "Because of his wisdom and work, so many people have gotten onto the path of education and are now thriving and serving in our community. He's a man of character, and it's so inspiring to see what he continues to do even in the state of his health."
Williams suffered a stroke in recent years, but that hasn't dampened his fire and drive to help his community move forward.
"Work is important to me too," he said. "There's nothing wrong with getting a decent job for decent pay, and it's important to me to make sure people are both getting themselves jobs and getting the earnings they should."