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Noting her giant of a mentor said recently that she is now his superior, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Denise Page Hood was resolute in rebuffing that notion.

“I don’t think so,” said Hood of U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith as he looked on. Then she added, which was followed by laughter from the capacity crowd in the ornate courtroom, “I think he has some power to reverse me.”

To Keith, who honored Hood on Thursday at his 29th annual Soul Food Luncheon with the Soul and Spirit Humanitarian Award at the Detroit Federal Courthouse, the moment to recognize his one-time summer intern in the 1970s was “special.”

“It’s personally important to me because while she was in law school she worked as my intern,” said Keith following the formal ceremony as he sat just below the painting of himself in his one-time courtroom on the 7th floor. “To see her now as the chief judge of this court makes me feel good. It makes me feel as though my daughter has continued to grow and grow. She deserves it.”

Keith’s luncheon with barbecue ribs, chicken, greens and macaroni and cheese is held annually during Black History Month and pays homage to African-American community and civic leaders. It is one of the most well-attended events in the city and attracts the city and state’s top leaders.

Among the guests were Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, as well as scores of Keith’s former law clerks who hold prominent posts such as Wayne State University Law Dean Jocelyn Benson. Hood’s chief judge courtroom is the same one used in Detroit’s historic bankruptcy proceedings.

Past recipients of the award have been former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Juanita Moore, president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

In her acceptance speech, Hood spoke glowingly of Keith, calling him “one of the stellar citizens of our nation. I don’t think he’s just a judge. I don’t think he’s just a Dad. ... I don’t think he’s just mentor to his law clerks. I think he exemplifies what we really mean when we say a citizen.”

For his part, Caldwell praised Keith as someone who reached out to the oft-embattled Lions coach “with notes of encouragement” and quipped to more laughter, “I’m certainly glad I’m walking in on the right side of justice.”

Speaking of Keith, Caldwell said, “he’s a great example and my blueprint of integrity.”

Before she was honored, Hood said she “never” thought Keith would bestow the award on her and that she was humbled to receive it.

“I’ve hosted and offered my courtroom for them to use for the program, and I’ve seen everybody coming through, and I’m like, that’s a great person coming through, and they are wonderful, and I’m just happy to be there and support (Keith),” she said. “So when he called me and said we’d like you to be the honoree, I was like, ‘Are you joking?’ It’s very nice to be thought to be making the kind of contributions that are similar to his other honorees.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

@leonardnfleming

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