A Conversation with a Trailblazer: Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. (Ret.)

By Nicholé C. Gatewood

On February 28, 2023, FBA Maryland Chapter hosted A Conversation with a Trailblazer with United States District Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. (Ret.). As part of our chapter's celebration of Black History Month, Nichole' C. Gatewood, the Immediate Past President of the Maryland Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, spoke with Judge Williams about his career journey. Judge Williams has held a multitude of positions including private practitioner, state’s attorney, federal judge, and founder and director of a social justice policy institute.

Throughout his career, Judge Williams has never backed down from an obstacle or been accepting of a roadblock. From being told that he was not college material, to breaking down barriers to become the first Black person elected State's Attorney for Prince George's County, MD, and the impact of this historic win simultaneously making him the first Black person to hold countywide office, he has never accepted the label of being non-qualified. Instead of allowing small-minded perspectives to deter the accomplishment of his goals, he used the naysaying to propel him forward. Taking the audience along his journey, Judge Williams imparted valuable life lessons, career advice, and civic wisdom.

Emphasizing the importance of mentorship and sponsorship, Judge Williams explained the vital role that having a network of supporters plays in breaking through barriers. He told the audience about his tough road to judicial confirmation and the pivotal role that having and nurturing relationships played in his confirmation to the federal court. For nearly 20 years, he proudly served on the Maryland federal court with distinction before retiring. After sharing some of his most memorable cases, Judge Williams stressed the value of building a strong reputation and laying a sound body of work as a foundation for judicial consideration. A nurturer of relationships, Judge Williams noted some of the highly respected jurists and elected officials that he has mentored and supported over the years.

Growing up in a strong and loving family, Judge Williams was equipped to thrive and not just survive. After retiring from the bench in continuation of his life’s mission of giving back, he took on the role of change agent and founded The Judge Alex Williams Jr. Center for Education, Justice, and Ethics. In this capacity, he has come full circle and uses his life and career experiences to champion policy development and effectuates change. And as if that were not enough, he is still teaching at his alma mater Howard University, in the law school and School of Divinity. Judge Williams personifies the definition of a trailblazer, and we share more about his path and purpose in his upcoming book, “Non-Qualified.”

Ms. Gatewood is the Managing Member of Gatewood & Associates, LLC, and focuses her practice on civil litigation and wealth transfer through estate and trust planning and administration.