January 9, 2017, was a historic day. It was the day that Mark Dupree was sworn-in as Wyandotte County District Attorney, making him the first elected Black district attorney in Kansas’ history.
The ceremony was even more extraordinary because he was sworn-in by Wyandotte County District Court Judge Timothy Dupree, Mark’s older brother. The Bible used to swear Mark in was held by Rev. Alvin Dupree Sr., their father, and proving that real life is often more extraordinary than fiction, the ceremony’s closing prayer was given by Rev. Alvin Dupree Jr. Timothy and Mark’s oldest brother.
Growing up in a home where both parents were church pastors meant spending time in church and spending time in the Bible. As Judge Dupree, 41, said, “God and family [went] hand-in-hand with each other. We were always taught to be faithful to God, be faithful to family, and to look out for each other.”
But there was more, said D.A. Dupree, 35, said, “We had a lot of fun; did a whole bunch of stuff together. Mama and daddy made sure we had a lot of trips together, but ultimately, it was family first.”
As a boy, Tim didn’t dream of becoming a judge or a lawyer, and after graduating from the University of Kansas he decided to teach. He applied for a job as a long-term substitute teacher at F.L. Schlagle High School in KCK and was told to forward a copy of his bachelor’s degree to the school district. He went back to KU’s Office of Student Records to pick up his degree, and while still on campus the Lord spoke to him and instructed him to “walk into Green Hall and see what it takes to become a lawyer.”
He did as instructed and was told he needed a certain grade-point-average, and he needed to take the Law School Admissions Test. The next test was in a few weeks, and he asked to be put on the schedule to take that exam. The lady suggested he would need more time to prepare and urged him to take the test in six months. He insisted, took the test several weeks later, and scored high enough to be admitted to the Washburn University School of Law.
Young Tim had grown accustomed to people trying to dissuade him. In his senior year at Wyandotte High School (in KCK) he wanted to attend a KU campus tour. In part to see the campus, but mainly to spend the day with his girlfriend who was going on the tour. He told his guidance counselor he wanted to go but she said, “No, we’re not going to waste our time and money on you. We’re going to send a student that’s more likely to go to college.” He wasn’t upset. At that time, he wasn’t even planning on going to college.
Mark, the youngest of six children, wasn’t the typical kid. He was playful at times, but Judge Dupree remembers him being smart, studious, devout, driven to succeed, and mature beyond his years. The family had high expectations for their baby brother who, at 12, preached the Gospel. The kids at school called him “The Preacher Boy.”
Judge Dupree said their parents taught them to put God first. “Mark caught on to that principle quickly. Some of us it took a little bit longer.”
Looking back, the D.A. said, “Everybody looked out for me.” An excellent example was when Mark wanted to join the military but Tim and Alvin said he couldn’t. Mark didn’t understand.
Their father had served in Vietnam; Alvin was in the Marines; (and would make it a career); but the brothers wanted Mark to go to college. Mark didn’t agree, but he heeded their advice and definitely grew to appreciate their guidance.
When Mark was 14, he and some of his school mates shadowed employees at KCK’s city hall and courthouse. Mark shadowed a judge—who looked like him. The judge, short and wearing an afro, was District Court Judge Cordell Meeks Jr (his father, Cordell Meeks Sr., had been the first Black district court judge in Kansas). That one-day job shadow became a seven-year mentor-mentee relationship.
When Mark was an undergraduate at KU, Judge Meeks suggested he become a lawyer, so Mark decided to attend law school. He also decided, as his older brother had, to attend law school at Washburn University.
Mark credits much of their success to God and to their strong foundation. Their parents, he said, “gave us something that we can fall back on, whether the education worked, whether the elections were won or not won. Watching our parents give what they didn’t have … showed us in life that wherever God takes us, it is not about us. It is always about how we can affect the lives of those that are around us. Our lives are lived to serve God and to serve this community … and by serving God, God will place you in positions and places to effect positive change for an entire community.”
They also learned humility, from their parents and from the Bible, and though they have become accomplished men, their humility is intact. Judge Dupree, despite being the first in the family to attend college, graduate from college, and graduate from law school, said, “Mark and I are not phenomenal people. We’re just regular people no different than anyone else. The only difference in us—if there’s a difference—is that we’ve yielded to God, we’ve placed God first, and we’ve followed His direction. That’s the only difference.”
Each brothers’ love, respect, and admiration for the other is evident. D.A. Dupree sees his brother as a blessing. “He [Judge Dupree] was a criminal defense lawyer longer than I was. He was a prosecutor longer than I was. The experience—not just the wisdom—that God has given him … [and] him being there so that I can receive wisdom from God through him.”
No matter how hectic things get in the District Attorney’s Office or in the courtroom, each brother knows the other is in the courthouse just one floor away.