Judge Joan Anthony Rises From Humble Beginnings To a Life Lived in Service

“If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. As I face tomorrow, I am content, for I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share in my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.”
-- Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

More than a century ago, Bethune-Cookman University was founded by a humble woman, born to former slaves, with a vision and desire to serve and improve the lives of others. In the 117 years that followed, thousands of young men and women have graduated from B-CU’s hallowed halls and have become models of their school’s founder’s, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, dream of creating a world built on love, hope, and respect for one another.

Judge Anthony

Meet the Honorable Joan Anthony, a Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida judge, serving Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, and Volusia counties. Like Dr. Bethune, Judge Anthony came from modest beginnings, but with the steadfast support of her parents, a determined spirit, an unwavering faith in God, and a university that helped her discover and grow in her life’s calling, Judge Anthony has made her mark not only in the Florida court system, but also in the futures of those seeking to follow in her footsteps.

Joan Anthony was born in Jamaica. Her father was a sugar cane cutter and her mother a housekeeper. When she was seven years old, Ms. Anthony, her mother and siblings joined her father in the United States, settling in Belle Glade. Ms. Anthony excelled in school and set her sights on college. “Although my mom and dad couldn't read and write, they were hard workers,” Judge Anthony said. “My dad would get up very early to go cut the sugar cane, and my mother would fix breakfast and then go clean houses in the camp.”

“They had high expectations for me. There was no doubt that I would go to college,” she continued. “In fact, when I graduated from law school, I didn't have a school loan because my dad worked so hard; he paid for me to go to law school.”

As certain as she was that she would continue her education beyond high school, Judge Anthony said Bethune-Cookman was her one and only college of choice – because of its reputation and “they had a good band”, she said with a chuckle in her voice.

In the Fall 1977, Ms. Anthony, along with two Glade Central High School classmates, headed to Daytona Beach as first-generation college students of their respective families. Judge Anthony began her college career as a nursing major, but after one year, changed it to history/pre-law. “I always knew I wanted to be a helper,” she said. “But the nursing courses were too difficult for me, so I decided to help people in another way and changed my major to history and pre-law. My parents were shocked when I told them I wanted to become an attorney because I had always been the shy one. After interning with the state attorney, I knew I made the right choice.”

Ms. Anthony earned her bachelor’s degree in History on April 27, 1981 from B-CU and headed to Howard University where she ultimately earned her juris doctorate. The next day, she returned to her home state – “I didn’t like the potholes,” she said, laughing -- and began studying for the bar, while working as an associate for JC Penney. On her second attempt, Ms. Anthony passed the bar and was sworn in in 1988.

She worked a few years as a defense attorney before opening her own practice concentrating on family law, criminal law, and estate planning. “Dr. Bethune started with little or nothing, and that's what I did with my law practice,” she said. “I remember when I started on my own, I had maybe $500. I bought a simple copy machine and phone from Office Depot, and I put it on an American Express Card.”

Attorney Anthony remained in private practice for more than 30 years, serving the poor and less fortunate. During that time, she was also a pre-law instructor at B-CU and served as a mentor to several young men and women with dreams of becoming lawyers.

“I think Bethune-Cookman had me on speed dial, because I had many students reach out to me asking if they could do community service in my office,” she said with a chuckle. “They would intern with me. They would shadow me and go to court. They would get their community service hours through my law office.”

Fast forward to about a year ago. Attorney Anthony, her children now grown and on their own, felt the calling to do more for her community and ran for Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida judge. (She said that early in her career, her pastor prophesized that one day she would be a judge.) She won the election and was sworn in in January 2021. She is the first African-American judge to serve in the St. Augustine court.

Judge Anthony

And while she embarks on a new chapter in her career, as a “judge for all,” Judge Anthony remains true to her roots, giving credit to her parents for their dedicated support and to the school that strengthened her call to serve.

“Thinking about where I have been and where I have come, it is amazing,” she said. “Today, when I walk down the hall with my robe on and I enter in my courtroom and to hear my bailiff say, ‘All arise’, I can just see my mom and dad, especially my dad. That was one proud man.” “Also, I'm proud of Bethune-Cookman because we have a lot of graduates who have moved on to higher heights. They are beacons in their communities. I am proud to represent B-CU.”

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