I thought long and hard before publishing this piece. Writing, sometimes, is the easiest part. But to share something personal, that is a source of pain and/or shame, makes hitting the “publish” button that much harder. But I hope that it serves to enlighten someone. Here it goes….
It was the 1990s. I was in my 20s, and part of a training class for a new job. There was a mix of us from all over — different backgrounds and races. The instructor was an older white man. One day, a group of us trainees decided to get together for drinks. We all went home and changed into casual clothes. Since it’s Florida and always hot, I threw on some shorts and cute mules (remember, it was the ’90s). I arrived at the bar and greeted everyone. I was surprised to see the instructor there, but carried on. He began making weird comments to me, and inquired of the male friend I was with (who I’d known for a long time through school) if we were sleeping together.
Sufficed to say we were all uncomfortable.
The next day in class, the instructor called on me and, in front of everyone, asked, “Isn’t it true you like to wear daisy dukes on your days off?”
I was mortified. The entire class gasped in horror.
I’m struggling with my emotions this morning. Late Sunday night, I discovered that a friend, George Cholakis, suddenly passed away while at a Miami Dolphins football game. I’m completely saddened and stunned. Not more than 2 weeks before, we laid another friend to rest, J.C. Dugue. He passed away from a massive heart attack just before Hurricane Irma hit.
These gentlemen were attorneys that were a few years ahead of me in my legal career. J.C., who was a defense attorney, knew me pretty much my entire career as a prosecutor. His sense of humor always added levity to tense moments as we stood across from each other on opposite sides of the courtroom. Just looking at him sometimes would have me in stitches. He was just that way.
George was helpful to me as a young prosecutor, as I was floundering (as we all did) to stay afloat with the heavy caseload. He’d often have words of encouragement, or the right answer when the judge was grilling me. He was senior to me, having tried intense homicide cases. He was kind, always pleasant, down to earth, and a fun guy. A few years ago, a really tragic incident occurred that pretty much cost him everything. George took responsibility, and started from scratch to rebuild. He began his own legal practice, and brought the same personality that he always had to his new line of work. I had such respect for George in doing so. Sometimes when folks fall down, they never get back up. He did, which showed the strength of his character.
What bewilders me is that they were not old. I know, the definition of “old” tends to shift as one ages upward, but I’m talking maybe 10 years older than me. I get it — when you hit your 70’s and 80’s, you expect to lose friends. Not in your 40’s.
Earlier this year, we lost two more members of our legal community to suicide. We all were devastated, and started work among our voluntary bar organizations to address depression. We lost J.C. and George to natural causes. Now, it’s time for us to talk about self care of not just the mind, but the body as well.
It takes wild horses for me to drag the men in my life to the doctor. I joke that for my husband and my dad, if an arm fell off, they’d pick it up and keep going, still refusing to go to the doctor. We have to be more forceful about getting the ones we love to the doctor, and heeding whatever warnings are given.
And, we ourselves need to take responsibility for our own health. Taking on too much, unmanaged stress, and ignoring what our bodies tell us is the formula for a fatal disaster.
We have to take care of each other. The pain of those left behind is immeasurable.
It’s never a good feeling to lock the door to your home, and not know when, if ever, you can really return.
At present, my husband, my 81 year old father and I are hunkered down in a hotel in central Florida. Our home in Miami is in the path for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma; the storm may follow us to where we are, causing us to consider running again. We are luckier than most in that we are able to leave town, and not head to a shelter. Hurricane shelters, contrary to how one sheriff in particular portrays them, are not centers of crime and assault. It is literally a a building (often a school) in a safer area that allows you to lay a blanket on the floor until the danger is over. A shelter is safe but not at all comfortable.
Many of my friends have chosen to stay put in their homes. There are many reasons why folks do not leave. Some can’t afford the crazy airline prices out of town; others worry that it is too late to leave, and don’t want to get caught in the storm due to traffic jams on the major highways.
Recently, it has come to light that some in the media show great disparities in how they report the aftermath of hurricane, based on race. Many of us reflect back to Hurricane Katrina, where there were pictures of residents doing whatever they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, when white folks were depicted taking food or items from stores, they were portrayed as survivors. When people of color did the same, they were portrayed as looters.
A version of my piece appears in Blavity, check it out!
In a time where a day seemingly cannot go by without some sort of political calamity, how can one get through this?
Those who see and feel injustice are having a tough time.
I’ll put it out there – I’m exhausted. Having seen the good, bad and the ugly in the criminal justice system, I have now elevated my work on social justice issues to a wider scope. I feel it is incumbent upon me as an African American female attorney to lend my voice, as well as my knowledge, for the betterment of all people everywhere. In doing so, you take on the pain of the struggle. If you do not internalize it in some way, then you may need to check your pulse to see if you are still alive.
To make sure that you continue to have the ability to fight the good fight, self-care is critical. Some may think “is that some silly reason folks use to blow off work and go to yoga”
Maybe for some folks, yes; for social warriors, no.
In order to center yourself, you have to take a break. Why? Because your effectiveness diminishes as fatigue sets in. Stress literally kills.
Here are some ideas:
Skipping meals, or eating fast food regularly is not a good idea. I like McDonald’s fries as much as the next person, but as we saw in SuperSize Me, a regular diet of this is not sustainable. Additionally, it will wreak havoc on your energy levels and your mood. The topics we are dealing with regularly are painful as it is – the wrong nutrition will make an already short fuse even shorter. Make a conscious effort to eat regularly, and eat real food.
I’m the first person to say I don’t get a runner’s high. I mostly get the runner’s ouch. But put me in a spin class with a solid playlist (shout out to Allison, Johanna and Reed at SoulCycle), and for 45 minutes I am in another world. I leave sweaty, less stressed, and ready to take on the day. Find what works for you – if you’re in Florida like me, a long walk on the beach is a straight up spiritual experience. If not, basic calisthenics at home, an internet based workout (there’s tons of videos on YouTube, as well as more specialized options), or hitting your local gym will go a long way in allowing you to de-stress, clear your head, and release some of the anger that accumulates. Don’t let budget be a hindrance – close your door, and dance like mad to 3 of your favorite songs in a row. That short break may be enough to release some toxicity.
Find your village
You need to have positive people around you in your personal life. Each of us needs to have that crew who you can laugh with, be totally silly, and just let your locs down. These are folks who lift you up, infusing you with renewed energy. If those folks aren’t around you, you may need to take a serious look at your circle and make some changes for your sanity.
Take a day at the very least each week , or the entire weekend if you can, and totally detox. My friend is a strong proponent of #UnpluggedSundays, where she signs off social media Saturday night, and does not get back on until Monday. Look, whatever craziness that is coming from the White House will be there tomorrow. Just take a day, and focus on friends and family. Focus on you. Binge watch Real Housewives – anything that does not require deep thought.
Leave the Bottle Alone
It may be tempting to self medicate by having that extra drink, or turning to legal (or illegal) drugs to escape. At the end of the day, the world’s problems will still be there when you wake up. And now, you’re awake, mad, and have a hangover. Enough said. Also, dependency/addiction has a tendency to creep up on you. Recreational use can turn to habitual use in the blink of an eye. I’m not trying to pull a Nancy Reagan (more of a Grandmaster Flash), but please don’t start down a path that will only cause pain.
Find what brings you peace (and don’t underestimate the power of the playlist)
Since Charlottesville, I’ve changed my screensaver at work to alpacas. Why? Because looking them calms me down. I can minimize my screen, look at the cuteness, and then re-engage. Music is a huge help too. Lately I’ve been rocking Damien Marley. His social commentary, coupled with great reggae beats and a sharp lyrical style keeps me focused when the day is long. Public Enemy, while accurate, makes me angry. As my friend Ken reminded me today, James Brown is a good bet. You get inspired, proud, and motivated.
Many have heard the James Baldwin quote
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
But the next line is even more important:
“…So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”
Being part of the resistance is tough, but don’t let it destroy you. Make a conscious effort to release your stress — you are needed!
This week, it was revealed by the New York Times that the Department of Justice, rather than focusing on actualcivil rights injustices, will be attacking affirmative action. The false narrative that DOJ is clearly following, is that White Americans are being discriminated against by affirmative action programs.
The Supreme Court disagreed last year, stating that race can be one of the factors considered. It should never be the onlyfactor considered — that would clearly be discriminatory.
Additionally, the idea of legacy admissions — where children of wealthy donors/alumni are able to obtain admission to schools, regardless of whether their academic performance meets the criteria — seems to not be a part of the review process.
During oral arguments of this case, Justice Scalia made some pretty controversial (and in my opinion, racist) comments. Here’s a piece I wrote at the time in response.
I am not ashamed to say it. I am a product of affirmative action.
Was I slow? Have trouble learning? Issues adapting to my environment?
My grades were certainly competitive enough to get me from high school to undergraduate to law school. I went on to pass the bar exam, have a long career as a prosecutor, teach, and hold leadership positions in various community as well as national organizations.
The video of State Attorney Aramis Ayala being stopped by police has gone viral.
This shouldn’t be surprising: Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida, and she is experiencing heightened scrutiny for her stance on the death penalty. Ayala is currently in a legal battle with Florida’s governor who, after she made her stance public, reassigned close to two dozen of her death-penalty-eligible homicide cases to another state attorney.
As we reflect on the meaning of Independence Day, I can’t help but shake the feeling that true independence is not reflected in the landscape of America. As we think about the struggle to remove Confederate monuments throughout the South, and the backlash that has been received, we are reminded of the importance of history (whether it is truthful or revised). The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, gave an impassioned speech as to why the Confederate monuments needed to come down.
The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, whichis that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
And let’s not even touch the fact that the Confederacy was a bunch of traitors; they separated from the United States over slavery and the economic windfall they received from subjugating human beings. Every time a Confederate flag flies, it is not a sign of rebellion; it’s the sign of a traitor.
Sure the South came back. But the Confederacy is like a spouse who cheated. The couple may work out their differences, but it doesn’t erase the betrayal.
What made me start to think about this topic was a thread on Twitter by an activist of color named Samuel Sinyangwe. He had gone to Barbados for the first time and saw a monument named Bussa (aka the Emancipation Statue). It’s a beautiful, impressive and important statue celebrating a slave who led the largest rebellion against slavery in Barbados back in 1816. It is prominently featured in the center of the city. He is considered a national hero. Samuel mentioned he had never seen anything like that before, and certainly not in the United States. As a result of this comment, folks from around the Caribbean (including Cuba) shared their country’s monuments to the brave slaves who fought for independence. See the photos here.
So if Confederate history is so important that the fight to keep their monuments stretches all the way to the halls of Congress, why aren’t there monuments to the great slaves who fought for their independence, their freedom, and their humanity? What about a beautiful bust of Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner or Sojourner Truth? Or how about this — for every Confederate statue, build a monument to a hero of the Civil War (both soldier and slave)?
We do have a statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. While that is all well and good, that pales in comparison to the many who gave their lives very early in the struggle, paving the way for Dr. King to also give his life for independence and equality.
What does this fight tell our children? What does this debate tell people of color?
I leave you with this thought on Independence Day. Independence Day to me represents opportunity. It represents the chance to keep fighting, to keep pushing for equality. But I also use it as a day of reflection — looking at how far we’ve come, but how far we yet have to go.
The reason given was that my license plate cover was too dark. I never thought it was, nor had I been warned for this previously.
In the past, I had my prosecutor’s badge to protect me — not anymore.
I’m the number two in the state for the most powerful civil liberties organization – the ACLU.
And I felt fear.
I placed my hands over the steering wheel, in full view of the officer. When he asked for my registration, I made sure to move slowly, with my hands continuously in full view.
He commented on my sports car, and my President Obama pin hanging from my rear view mirror. He also commented on my novelty license plate. My plate can be construed in several ways — commonly it is thought to support Black Lives Matter. In truth, the plate is a combination of mine and my husband’s initials. I don’t correct people, because I support intelligent policing. I always liked the double entendre.
June 12 has become a very significant day. Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia. It is also the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where 49 innocent lives were lost.
Both are very closely intertwined. On June 12, 1967, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia allowed couples of different races to marry — striking down the slavery era prohibitions to such unions. This case was used as the foundation of the case that allowed gays to marry. That freedom to love and to be happy was attacked by a lone gunman on June 12, 2016.
As I reflect on the significance of this day, I mourn the lives that were lost simply because of who they are or who they love. Interracial couples still face hurdles as well as racism (even though 1 in 10 couples in America are interracial).
I think about the rise in hate crimes under this current administration, and pray that the strong minded among us will join me in the fight against hate in all forms.
Evil flourishes when good people stand by and do nothing.
Please see my pieces — on being part of an interracial couple in “Love Wins” here; my tribute to the Lovings here; and my reaction one year ago to the Pulse shooting in “It Could Have Been Me” here.
Is Bill Cosby going to prison?
As actor Bill Cosby trial for sexual assault continues, everyone is asking the million dollar question is this it? Is the legendary actor that we all grew up with (Mr. Huxtable, Fat Albert, Jell-o pudding pops man) going to serve prison time for the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand?
Several factors come into play.
First, he’s got to be found guilty. The prosecution has an uphill battle convincing the 12 person jury. There was a delayed report of the assault (one year later), no physical evidence, and no eyewitnesses. The alleged victim stayed in contact with Cosby afterwards. Jurors, in the age of DNA, need more than an accuser’s word more often than not. He also has a squeaky clean image, and was someone who seemed endearing on television. It may be hard to separate the character from the person.
But, the prosecution is not walking in empty handed. There was much pretrial press, including television specials and magazine articles, of the long line of women (over 50 in total) who claim to have been victimized by Cosby. This includes supermodels, struggling actresses, and an airline stewardess among others. As much as the judge and attorneys for both sides asked probing questions during the jury selection process, this publicity will be in the jurors minds no matter what they may have said. Also, another victim will be sharing her experience with the jury — hearing from multiple victims is more powerful. Lastly, the prosecution will present expert testimony with the goal of enlightening the jury as to the different, unexpected ways victims of sexual assault may act or react.
So, it is a toss up which way the case will go. If he is found not guilty, he walks out the door. If he is found guilty, he would not be sent to jail immediately. Sentencing would be set for several weeks after the verdict is read. At the sentencing hearing, the defense attorney would bring a host of character witnesses. We saw Keisha Pullman Knight come to court with him in support; she and other Cosby show co-stars have been vocal in their support. They will probably be called to testify, along with others who will discuss the positive things he has done for the community, for the field of acting, etc. The defense will be quick to remind the court that Cosby does not have a criminal history.
Along with his lack of criminal history, the judge can consider Cosby’s age (79) and health. If he is truly going blind due to glaucoma, along with other physical ailments, the judge may determine that incarceration may not be the best punishment. The judge may feel that because of his age/physical condition, he is unlikely to reoffend, therefore not posing a risk to the public.
Cosby faces a max of ten years in prison if convicted. But as we have seen in recent cases at Stanford University and in Colorado, judges may conclude that prison is not appropriate for a variety of reasons. Granted, historically, men of color have not had the best luck when it comes to sentencing, as seen by the disproportionate numbers in prison. But wealth is often the great equalizer, as seen in the OJ Simpson case.