'National treasure' Judge Damon Keith 'inspired' at annual Soul Food Luncheon

Metro Detroit legal, civic and community leaders came together Thursday to celebrate Black History Month and to recognize the contributions of one of the country's longest-serving federal jurists at Judge Damon Keith's 32nd Annual Soul Food Luncheon.

Keith, 96, a senior judge on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been on the federal bench for more than 50 years and his opinions are cited as some of the greatest protections of civil rights and civil liberties ever written. 

Judge Craig Strong of Wayne County Circuit Court, who was among the attendees, called Keith "our national treasure," saying his decisions have played a major role in helping to preserve America's democracy.

Chief Judge Denise Page Hood addresses the crowd with Judge Damon J. Keith.

Keith said he was "inspired" and happy to see so many people turn out for the luncheon, served in his former chambers at the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit.

"It's a part of us all getting together to say we love each other and we respect one another and we want to make (America) a better place for everyone," Keith said in between greeting guests who waited in line to shake hands and be photographed with him.

This year's luncheon honoree was businessman and philanthropist William F. Pickard. About 300 people were invited to attend.

Pickard, who began his career as a McDonald's restaurant franchise owner, said he was honored to be recognized by Keith.

"When the judge honors you, you're excited and happy," said Pickard.

The luncheon brought together many of the state's new leaders, hip which includes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.  

Former Detroit News editor Luther Keith, the judge's nephew, said, "My dear uncle and people like him represent what our country can be and should be ... that gets lost in the controversy swirling about today."

"The whole country can learn from an event like this that democracy didn't happen by accident," Luther Keith said. "People died for it."


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