Judge Lori A. Dumas had a unique upbringing, raised in Philadelphia in the ‘70s and ‘80s by a single mother with strict standards.
Constance Dumas was an uneducated high school dropout.
For decades, Constance’s only option was working long shifts at a factory to support her three children. Judge Dumas’s mother had a rough childhood and didn’t want to see her two girls and one boy experience the same. Equal parts motivational and strict, Constance was ruthlessly protective, tough, and focused on education.
Through this amazing woman’s dedication, her children always had the necessities and came up in a warm, safe environment. Extra money might not have been around, but Constance offered love and motivation instead.
Looking back on her childhood, Judge Dumas remembers always being encouraged to “do more and be more.” Though she had two siblings, a large 13-year gap in their ages meant that most of her childhood was spent just with her mother. They weren’t close with any extended family, so “it was just us.”
This dynamic duo could do anything.
In her late 40s, Constance went back to school, earned her GED, achieved a college degree, and became a teacher. This single mother had pushed past all obstacles to not only raise successful children, but achieve her own possibilities.
Judge Dumas inherited her fortitude, taking leadership positions in high school, participating in teen councils with the Simons Recreation Center, and attending Duke University. Attending college was too expensive, but just like her mother, Judge Dumas didn’t let that stop her. She worked her way through college, taking loans and managing her budget so she could graduate and go even farther to earn her law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
After getting her law degree, Judge Dumas began her own practice back in her old neighborhood. It was great, Judge Dumas remembers. “I was representing everyday people, my neighbors and their families.”
“They knew that I would understand how to help them because I was them.”
Judge Dumas also served as an Executive Director for nonprofit Southwark Development Corporation, whose mission was to foster community development in a time when Philadelphia was changing the face of public housing.
Next, she was General Counsel for Wordsworth Academy, an organization providing education and therapeutic programs for children at risk.
"I really began to see a pattern of how people who did not have substantial means did not get the justice they deserve in the court."
Judge Dumas was now 31 years old. The normal conventions - and many colleagues - told her that this wasn’t the time to run for a judicial seat. She was too young. She hadn’t done enough. She was African-American, so it’d be harder for her to win.
If her mother had taught her anything, it was to stay strong and do more. So Judge Dumas gathered her supporters and made the unusual decision to run for judge. With her legal savvy and determination, her campaign made a huge showing, bringing her very close to victory. Though she didn’t win, her campaign had been so impressive, Judge Dumas was appointed to be a judge in early 2002. That same year, Judge Dumas ran again for the seat. She won.
Time to be the judge she wanted to see for her community.
For the next two decades, Judge Lori A. Dumas surpassed every expectation Constance had for her children. Judge Dumas advocated for at risk youth, improved judicial support for the community, earned awards, and continued to develop her passion for helping Pennsylvanian families through fair and balanced rulings.
Remembering her mother during this time, Judge Dumas recounts, “she was super proud. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders and sang my praises everywhere.”
In 2012, Constance passed away. She left behind a legacy of strength, dedication, and love. Judge Dumas was proud to have achieved everything she did, because “it was all hers [my mother’s]. She did it all. She was able to see me do what she could never accomplish herself.”
A legacy of rigorous standards, community values, and commitment.
Judge Dumas found her passion in the court system. She knew she could serve her neighborhood, city, and state best by carrying on her mother’s legacy of supporting future generations and making the world a better place.
While presidential elections get all the notoriety, Pennsylvanians and Phildelphians really feel the results of decisions made by local, elected officials. Being a Commonwealth Court judge is impactful and important for Judge Dumas as she continues to live out the dreams of one uneducated factory worker named Constance.