Pearls of Wisdom From Papa P.

Pearls of Wisdom From Papa P.

In honor of Father’s Day, I’m sharing some of the greatest pieces of advice my father has given me over the years. He tended to speak in parables/riddles – it took me several decades for the meanings to sink in and resonate. There is that moment (as popularized by a series of Progressive Auto Insurance commercials) when you realize that you’ve become your parents. I find myself using a few of these – at work, in speeches, or when there is simply no other way to explain a situation.

So here we go! Imagine all of these said with a Jamaican patois accent for full effect.

My father and I when I was a munchkin, giving you 70s realness…

It’s not where you begin, it’s where you get off

This gem is a reminder that it’s all about the journey as well as the end result. You could have had a rough start, a slow start, or botched a few things along the way. If you end up in a good place, how and where you started becomes irrelevant.

 

You have to have 2 types of friends – the one who can push the car, and the one who can sign the papers.

This one is so real to me. It’s a reminder not to be a snob. Don’t exclusively run with one group of people – make sure to be diverse in your friends and acquaintances. It’s easy to say “oh I’m educated, I don’t socialize with certain people“. Just because someone may not have the same educational level as you does not mean they aren’t a good person or worthy of your friendship. And as a practical matter, the partner at a law firm is (generally) not going to come down from his/her office and jump start your car if your battery dies. But the janitor, if you have been treating him/her with respect, will help you out.

My father and I at my law school graduation

 

Make hay while the sun is still shining

My father grew up in an agricultural area of Jamaica. It’s literal – after dark you can’t get a whole lot done. But on another level, it encourages me to get a jump on things early, and not procrastinate. It could be a business idea, a project, or a chore. You never know when you will lose an opportunity or time will run out on you (literally or figuratively). His biggest push was for me to finish my education before pursuing anything else – because life has a tendency to get in the way of finishing goals (bills to pay, family, etc.).

 

A king never gets recognition in his own country.

There’s nothing worse than putting all of your efforts into something, and it not working out the way you planned.

Sometimes it goes completely sideways and you get drama for trying to do a good thing.

But sometimes, you get recognition or support from the unlikeliest of places, while those you thought would support you are nowhere to be found. This is a reminder that it’s not so bad, just do your best and the rest will see for itself.

 

Stand crooked and cut straight

This is my personal favorite —  I have been using it like crazy of late. Sometimes you find yourself in a bad situation. Use where you are as a way to get yourself out and make future plans. For instance, your job is not working out well. For the time being, stay in it, but focus on where you want to be. Network, get another degree, learn the skills that will help you get as well as succeed at the job you really want. It’s all about making the best of the current situation while working on getting to the next level.

In closing, I hope you enjoyed these gems – please share the favorites from your family!

 

Happy Father’s Day!

My father’s 80th birthday, giving you dapper all day!
You’re So Different: Ok, But What Makes You Black?

You’re So Different: Ok, But What Makes You Black?

Hey RLD Fam,

Super thrilled that my latest piece appears on the blog Very Smart Brothas. They are doing a series “America in Black”. My piece explores the stereotypes and misconceptions held by all races of what it means to be a black woman.

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“Every black person’s struggle takes a different path but has the same theme. In my legal career, the struggle is respect, being heard, and having the ability to make meaningful change to uplift communities of color. The bias looks the same—while some people of color may be hesitant to embrace you because you’re perceived as “bougie,” certain white folks marvel that you can afford a luxury purse or a high-end foreign car without being tied to illegal activity. I was once at an event when a judge joked to me whether or not my Michael Kors purse was a result of dropping cases as a prosecutor.”

See the rest here.

Birthing While Black: Food for Thought on Mother’s Day

Birthing While Black: Food for Thought on Mother’s Day

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Photo Credit: CreateHer Stock

As Mother’s Day approaches, the conversation should not only be about Hallmark cards and what gift to buy the mothers in your life. While it is extremely important to show honor to our mothers daily (not just on Mother’s Day), we as a society should be focused on supporting mothers too. We are in a country with an extremely high rate of mortality for Black mothers — 3 to 4 times that of white mothers. Serena Williams has been public about her near death experience after giving birth; the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle,  chose to have a doula present when delivering her baby.  If high profile Black women are having concerns in the delivery room — let’s think about how much more dire this can be if a mother is giving birth behind bars.

The conversation has been elevated to include mothers who are in custody. Movements like #FreeBlackMamas and The Dignity Act illustrate the problems that face mothers behind bars. The Dignity Act was included as part of federal criminal justice reform bill, which just recently passed. It requires that women are not shackled while they give birth, receive menstrual care items, and searched by same-sex guards when at all possible. Sadly, states have been slower to pass these types of reforms.

A version of the Dignity Act passed in the Florida Legislature this month. However, this bill would not have helped Tammy Jackson — who was left to give birth alone in her jail cell for six hours in Broward County. Despite her repeated pleas to the guards, she was not provided medical attention.  This is part of the greater problem where certain mothers are not valued. The fact that someone is incarcerated or in custody does not diminish their humanity. People who are in custody are the responsibility of the Department of Corrections; as such, it is the guard’s responsibility to ensure that those in their care receive the help that they need.

Additionally, medical professionals need to have regular implicit bias training.  The assumption that Black women are stronger, therefore perceived to be less in need of medical attention, is a deadly fallacy that costs mothers their lives. This is something that is a relatively easy fix to the high mortality rates.

As for the guards who left Tammy Jackson to give birth alone in her cell without medical attention, it is my hope that her pain becomes a teaching moment in the road to criminal justice reform. No one should be judged by a mistake they may have made. 83% of people who go into custody come out – the trauma that was caused by this experience lasts, leaving repercussions on not only the person who was incarcerated, but begins a ripple effect from the immediate family to society as a whole.

As I do every Mother’s Day, I must wish my own mother a happy Mother’s Day in heaven. As I learn more about the medical traumas that mothers, especially Black mothers face, I marvel at her strength and appreciate her even more.

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Kim Foxx Was Not Wrong: The Lonely Road Of An Elected Prosecutor Of Color

Kim Foxx Was Not Wrong: The Lonely Road Of An Elected Prosecutor Of Color

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx/Jussie Smollett. Credit: Getty Images

There has been so much misinformation around Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s actions in the Jussie Smollett fraud case.  Time for me to share the real deal — from having been a prosecutor for close to two decades!

Much has been made over Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the case involving Empire star Jussie Smollett. Initially, Smollett was charged with 16 criminal counts for allegedly faking a hate crime, with himself as the victim. Foxx has been attacked for being too lenient, and for having contact with representatives of Smollett’s camp.

As a former prosecutor who handled homicides and violent crimes, it’s time to clear up some myths and misconceptions.

A prosecutor is expected to speak to a victim

While Foxx did have contact with Smollett’s camp when the case initially began, she ceased contact when it became clear that Smollett was being investigated as a defendant. It is impossible to investigate a case and determine its veracity without speaking to the victim. With a high profile victim, you often end up speaking to intermediaries. If it turns out the victim is not truly a victim, you end contact and prosecute if there is enough evidence. This is normal, and in criminal cases, there are twists and turns that one can’t predict.

I once had a homicide case that I thought was a slam dunk.

Read the rest in Blavity.

 

 

Legal Divas of Color: Eunice Hunton Carter

Legal Divas of Color: Eunice Hunton Carter

Every year for Black History Month, I produce a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”.  The aim is to highlight female legal eagles of color, past and present, who blazed the trail for me (as well as many other sisters and brothers to follow).

11. Eunice at work-Philadelphia Sun, date unknown
Eunice at work-Philadelphia Sun, date unknown

Did you know that it was an African American female attorney that brought down mobster Lucky Luciano?

I surely did not!

A dear friend of mine Louise brought this to my attention on Facebook. She posted:

Just finished “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster” by Stephen L. Carter. The book is about Eunice Hunton Carter, the author’s grandmother. The granddaughter of slaves, she was a graduate of Smith College, and later became the first black woman to receive a law degree from Fordham University in New York City. In the mid-1930s when special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, she was the only member of his team who was not a white male. And it was her work that brought down Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history. This is a remarkable story about a truly remarkable woman.

So of course, I had to investigate!

Eunice Hunton Carter was born in 1899 in the city of Atlanta.  Her parents, who were social activists, encouraged her to push boundaries. After graduating cum laude from Smith College with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1921, she pursed a career as a social worker.  Later, Ms. Carter became the first African American woman to graduate from Fordham Law School in 1932.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her to “women’s court” to serve as a prosecutor of women perpetrated crimes — at the time, mostly prostitution. This made her the first African American female Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan.

While working in this court, Ms. Carter started to see a pattern — certain prostitutes kept getting arrested all over New York City, and were consistently bonded out by the same bail bondsmen, and represented by the same attorneys. The bondsmen and attorneys were connected to the mobster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.  Lucky Luciano created the infamous “Commission” — which brought all five mob families together to settle disputes and carve up territory. He was ruthless, running rackets and “whacking” or murdering anyone who stood in his way.

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Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, photo courtesy of Mob Museum

Armed with her observations, Ms. Carter spoke to her boss, special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, and they began to build a case.  They were able to prove that the prostitutes had to kick back half of their earnings for protection as well as representation. This meant Luciano was benefiting from prostitution.  Due to her hard work, they secured a guilty verdict, and Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison. He served 10 years before being deported to Italy (after cooperating with authorities).

Ms. Carter continued to serve as a prosecutor until 1945, when she entered private practice. She married Lisle Carter, Sr., who is one of the first African American dentists in New York. She also advised the United Nations on women’s issues and was active with the United Council of Negro Women and YMCA until her death in 1970.

Get the book by her grandson Stephen L. Carter here.

Ironically, when I first became a prosecutor, my goal was to do mob and drug trafficking cases. Life took me on a different path, but I’m thrilled to see a sister who blazed the trail and was an unsung heroine in the fight against organized crime. With the knowledge that the mob (in general) did not have a high opinion of African Americans or women, learning about her work made it that much sweeter.

Thank you Eunice Hunton Carter for being a true Legal Diva of Color!

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