In the Service of Youth: Judge Sheila Calloway’s Impactful Insights on Juvenile Justice

As part of the Vise Library Speaker Series, Cumberland University had the honor of hosting Davidson County Nashville Juvenile Court Judge, Sheila Calloway on Thursday, February 29. Judge Calloway was elected to her seat in 2014 and continues to serve Nashville after her reelection in August of 2022. With decades of practicing law under her belt, Judge Calloway can look back and see the parallels between her own young life and the lives of the young people she encounters daily.

In a given year, roughly 1,000 cases come through her courtroom, and of those, only around one-third are specifically focused on the misdeeds of a child. While centered around the child, most others have more to do with the dysfunction or disputes of the parents and adults caring for the child. This data triggered something inside Judge Calloway; she and her team began pulling together statistics from over the course of her career to determine how many of the children they saw had visited the court system for misconduct before. To the dismay of all, approximately 75% of juveniles that comprised the misconduct category had previously been in the system due to cases centered around parental or guardian disputes. 

Judge Calloway offered some insight and examples in her own life of the razor’s edge that many of these children walk. As a young person, school and, perhaps more candidly put, rules caused some friction between Calloway and her parents. The judge recited one story that showcased the varying paths she could have walked. School was a friction point for Judge Calloway; she recounted a research paper assignment that was made up of subsections that would each be graded and added together to determine the total paper grade. Rather than complete the entire project, Calloway decided to do some quick math, discovering which sections she did and did not have to complete for her to maintain the grade she was content with. Her parents, having caught on to her actions and seeing the potential that their daughter contained, continued to push Calloway, who had always wanted to be a lawyer, to shoot high and work hard to become a judge. 

These moments are now looked back upon with lightness and love because Judge Calloway’s parents created a safe and stable environment that aided her on life’s journey. As a lawyer, Calloway saw how judges impact the trajectory of youths, many of whom did not have the advantage of the same home life she had taken for granted. 

Now seasoned in law practice, Judge Calloway has dedicated her career to creating a Nashville that works to treat the root of Juvenile court issues saying, “Each day, I am more and more inspired by the children and families we serve in Juvenile Court. I know that each of them have the potential to do great things. As a court, our role is to help provide each youth with the support they need to be successful. I am grateful to be in a position to help others succeed in life.” 

Her passion and drive for the children of Davidson County and the state of Tennessee are apparent. Judge Calloway’s impassioned talk left its mark on the day’s audience, with a few students sharing their desire to make a difference in their community’s legal system in the future.  

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