By Fern Gillespie
At age 88, when most people are retired, Judge Betty Staton is still passionately balancing a career as a lawyer, executive, senior and community advocate, and faith-based organizer in Bedford Stuyvesant.
Judge Staton is a visionary who seeks opportunities and takes chances. She entered New York Law School on a full scholarship while she was in her 40s. She later launched New York City’s first Black-owned women’s law firm. She was appointed as a Kings County, New York State Family Court judge. Then, after a 20-year career on the bench, she was required to retire at age 70.
“I aged out of being a judge at age 70,” she told Our Time Press. “I still had a lot to offer. I still had a lot of skills. God has blessed me with good health and a sound mind. I can still remember. I was still able to do so many things. Why should I retire I have plenty to offer. It didn’t make sense for me at this age to retire.”
“My mom retired at 65 and after she retired, she had nothing to do. She told me she regretted it. She told me, ‘I should never have retired. At that age, I should’ve found something else to do.’
Now, Judge Staton is President of Brooklyn Legal Services and operates as an ambassador and advocate for Brooklynites in underserved communities. She also advocates for seniors to find faith-based joy during their next life phase. At Emmanuel Baptist Church in Clinton Hill, she co-founded the elders’ group called Prime Time, comprised of “Senior Saints” who are passionate about staying involved and using their valuable skills to help the community.
“At the Prime Time ministry, we called our squad ‘senior saints,’ she explained. “We traveled all over the world– Mediterranean cruise, Hawaii. Every year we do something. It inspired all the people.”
The COVID pandemic changed everything. “Once we stopped meeting together, even though we continued to meet on Zoom, it was not the same as a fellowship in person,” she explained. “We had to force ourselves to continue to be active.”
At Brooklyn Legal Services, she remains active. “My job, because of my experience and ability to connect with people and the community, is to be the ambassador of our program. I go out to the community and let them know what we’re doing and show them what we’re doing. I connect them with our services. I’m also the liaison contacting representatives when we are in need of funding,” she said. “We are doing a program on racial justice in the court system and the bias in the court. I can reach out, and I can pull in judges and lawyers.”
Reading is her hobby. “I love reading. I read, read, read! I read from when I get up in the morning to when I sleep at night. I read scripture, but I also read various publications and books that encourage my spirit,” she said. ”I’m so happy that I could put words together because, unfortunately, I’ve observed in my circle of friends that some of my friends have fallen into dementia.”
Another favorite activity is dancing. When she was 78, Judge Staton and her dance partner Al Vann were the first-place winners of The Stars of New York Dance competition in Brooklyn, founded by Cheryl Todmann. “Al Vann was my favorite partner. He was a fabulous dancer,” she said. “We would just dance. Call it swing or whatever.” She competed again at age 85 but lost to Laurie Cumbo.
A believer in personal joy, within the first two months of 2023, Judge Staton journeyed from the desert to the artic. In January, she traveled to Dubai with a national judge organization, and then seven days later, she took a cruise to Antarctica. It’s part of her bucket list of continents to visit. She’s already planning for her 90th birthday party in October 2024.
“We cannot think of age as a disability or a limitation of what we can do.
“At this age, we should be able to find something that gives us joy. What is it that makes you happy?” she asked. “There are groups, even in the church, where you can connect in and find some joy that will keep you vibrant.”