He’s one of the most well-known people around Milwaukee and he now calls Marquette University home — again. Derek Mosley, director of the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, has a bigger than life personality and smile and infectious positivity.
For two decades, “Judge Mosley,” as he is commonly called, served as a Milwaukee Municipal Court judge, but he is now having a full-circle moment as he returns to his law school roots, encouraging civil conversations through the Lubar Center that affect our community and beyond.
Here in a Q&A, Mosley talks about his zest for life, his unusual introduction to the legal profession and what brings him hope for the future.
When I first met you at a Milwaukee Press Club awards banquet last year, one of the qualities I noticed immediately was your effervescent personality. You have such great energy that’s uplifting and positive. It seems like you really enjoy every moment and try to find the humor in life. Where do you think that comes from?
I know exactly where it comes from. People always say, “You only live once,” but I don’t view it that way. You actually live twice — your second life begins when you realize that you only have one life. I’ve had a few health scares (a kidney transplant and severe Covid), and that statement has become my anthem. When you truly face death, you reflect on your life, and your hope is to leave this Earth better than you found it. Apparently, I still have work to do. Hall of Fame NCAA Coach Jim Valvano, while facing incurable cancer, said: “There are 86,400 seconds in a day. It’s up to you to decide what to do with them.” I’ve decided to make them all count for myself and others.
You spent the last two decades as a municipal court judge in Milwaukee before transitioning to Marquette. What initially attracted you to the study of law? Did you have someone who inspired you or an event that happened that made you lean into law?
I used to be embarrassed to say this story, but now I’ve completely embraced it. Growing up I didn’t know any lawyers and especially not any Black lawyers. In fact, the first Black lawyer I ever saw was a character (Jonathan Rollins) played by actor Blair Underwood on the show L.A. Law. Seeing him and realizing that Black people can be lawyers, too, I began to research law schools and what was required to gain admission. Shortly after, legal shows (Law & Order and offshoots, The Practice, Matlock) became the flavor of the month on TV. I watched them all. I thought about the FBI and even interned in Washington, D.C., at FBI headquarters, but soon found out that without prior military or law enforcement experience, I would need to go to law school to join the bureau. Once again, it was law school.
What’s a day in the life of “Judge Mosley” look like as the director of Marquette University Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education? And as you settle into the role, where do you see yourself having the most impact with students and in the community?
The vast majority of my day is spent on programming at the Lubar Center. My goal is to make the center a place for important and civil conversations that affect Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the nation. I want the Lubar Center to be the place where these conversations take place and where everyone — students, community members, Republicans, Democrats and all economic groups — are welcomed and encouraged to listen, learn and fellowship. I also have made it my mission to bring as many Milwaukee youth, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth, to Marquette and immerse them in all we have to offer. I want them to see themselves in our student body and faculty so Marquette becomes their priority school. Lastly, I travel the country speaking on Black history and unconscious bias.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to eat. LOL. I make it a point to try all the many culinary options we have here in the city. Milwaukee has become one of the culinary gems of the Midwest with so many amazing chefs bringing a wide variety of cuisines. For foodie inspiration, follow me on Facebook or Instagram @judgemosley or @mkefoodcourt. I am always researching, reading and visiting anything concerning Black history. I like to travel domestically and abroad. I love NCAA basketball and March Madness; in fact, my friend Jonathan Smith, Law ’95, and I have been to 23 Final Fours. I also love exploring Milwaukee.
What brings you hope for the future of Milwaukee?
What gives me hope is that our country is having a love affair with Milwaukee. We have numerous James Beard nominated chefs and restaurants including the James Beard winner The Diplomat in 2021. We were picked to host the DNC and will host the RNC next year. The USA Triathlon is again coming back this year. We are booking huge conventions at the new Baird Convention Center. We have over 30 cruise ships that are scheduled to stop in Milwaukee with guests from all over the globe (I’m still amazed when I see a ship docked here). People are flocking to see the art installations of Sculpture Milwaukee, Cathedral Square and the Evanescent Bubbles. The Milwaukee Public Museum is garnering positive buzz over the new location and design, and they’ve secured the King Tut Immersive Experience. The Milwaukee Film Festival has become a destination to see some of the best movies from around the world, and National Geographic named us one of the top places to visit in the world. The rest of the world is finding out what Milwaukeeans have always known. We are truly “the darlings” right now.