I hope this email finds all of you healthy and well.
2020 has been quite a whirlwind for everyone without a shadow of a doubt. It was also the year I decided to run for Miami Dade State Attorney. The phrase “how oft go astray the plans of mice and men” rings so true. While I deeply wanted to serve my community in this way, life had other plans.
After the election ended on August 18, I was offered, and accepted, the position of Director of Policy and Programs at the Center for the Administration of Justice at Florida International University. I will be working on prosecutorial reform and other criminal justice issues nationally as well as globally. It’s really exciting!
In the meantime, it’s all about November. We are constantly being reminded how elections have far reaching consequences. With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we are seeing her reliably progressive voice being replaced by someone who is the exact polar opposite of her values. I wrote about Justice Ginsberg’s legacy in the Miami Times; see more here.
But in more positive news, I’m thrilled that someone who is a true trailblazer and role model for women of color – Kamala Harris – be on the ticket this November! It would be amazing to see her as the first female Vice President, and the first African American Vice President in our history! After going through a grueling campaign for eight months, I feel a special kinship with her. We faced similar criticisms, including having our “Black card” tested. Long time readers of the blog know how I feel about Senator Harris – but if you need a refresher, here are some of the pieces I’ve written about her work over the years.
As the year winds down, I will be looking for new ways to engage with everyone and give you the content you want to see! Please sound off in the comments – what would you like on RLD? More videos? Personal reflections? More legal analysis? Let me know!
Mondays With Melba continue weekly! Every Monday at 6pm, I discuss current events, politics and the law. Please go to either Facebook or IGTV to catch up on past episodes. Recent topics include how to vote safely, amendments on the Florida ballot, and legal analysis of the Breonna Taylor case. I’ll be adding more videos to the blog in the future too!
This week, actor Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer at the young age of 43.
Hearing of his death hurt me deeply. As an avid fan of the Marvel Studios movie franchise, seeing Black Panther for the first time was life changing on many levels as an African American woman. Watching people who looked like me prospering, creating, leading and saving the day on the big screen made my heart burst with pride – because so often Hollywood does not portray us in that manner. We are often relegated to the role of the gangster, the maid, the best friend or a lead character with messy tendencies. In real life we accomplish much of what is portrayed in Black Panther (i.e, girls of color in STEM) – but it is viewed as an outlier not the norm. While undoubtedly the narrative is slowly changing, Chadwick’s portrayal of King T’Challa/Black Panther singlehandedly destroyed stereotypes by the time the opening credits were completed.
In these times, we needed his portrayal more than ever. For two hours and fifteen minutes, I, along with so many others, were transported to a place of equality and justice – a Black utopia – albeit fictional. The Dora Milaje were strong African female warriors who reminded me of the fierce women of color in the real world who command respect while holding the world together behind the scenes. Chadwick’s smooth, effortless cool on screen was only exceeded by the good works he did in real life – as well as his superb portrayals of icons Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and James Brown.
My father taught me basic African history – great empires such Timbuktu which gave us math; how there was trading and commerce – all the good things before the continent was divided, ravaged and pillaged by slavery and colonialism. Real African history began far before slavery, yet that is where US history classes begin.
As an adult you often get too caught up in day to day life to do the research needed to know our history. Between police shootings, fighting to prove Black lives matter and to make sure the system is actually equal, you get sidetracked away from history.
But Black Panther changed everything. Black folks were like “wait, does this place exist?”
And so the hunt began. Think pieces abounded as to where a modern day Wakanda could be. Some say Kenya, others say Ethiopia. Ghana didn’t miss a beat and in honor of the 400 anniversary of slaves landing in the US, Ghana did the “year of return” to encourage African Americans to reconnect with their roots. Our collective intellectual curiosity was peaked by Chadwick’s and his co-stars’ stellar performances.
Black Panther also took on a different meaning when I went to Johannesburg, South Africa for the first time to lecture at a conference. The contrast really hit home – everyone has a tribe or a people they can point to as their own, complete with language, clothing and customs. I and the other African Americans who were present felt so lost when it came to “where are you from?” Oh, born in NY, family from the Caribbean. It pales to the generations of tribal love and closeness they enjoy. Out of that experience, they gave us African names. Mine was Boitumelo (aka Tumi) of the Tswana people, native to Botswana and South Africa. It means “joy”. As a gift, they presented me with a beautiful handmade dress that I wore when I launched my political campaign this past January as well as on election night, as a reminder that whatever happens – my ancestors are supporting me and are proud. The locals in South Africa referred to the ancestors regularly as a sign of respect as well as to remember their history – much like in the movie.
My experience was enriched by having seen Black Panther – too often Africa is portrayed as a place of endless war and famine. Black Panther expanded our minds and countered that negative narrative. The concept of hiding greatness in plain sight so that it would not be destroyed resonated with me and so many others.
Losing Chadwick was part of the loss of a fantasy. But it is one that can be made into reality in so many ways. In the end of Black Panther, Chadwick’s character was able to address racism and poverty on a global scale by revealing the power of Wakanda.
The reality is, we are all powerful, and can stand up to address these same issues via the ballot box, building economic power in our communities and rejecting the narratives placed upon us. As King T’Chaka said when he saw King T’Challa and he knelt before him on the ancestral plane “Stand. You are a king”
Chadwick Boseman left an amazing legacy. While it really hurts, to quote the movie “in our culture, death is not the end”. While we mourn him, it is not the end for him or us. We must push forward to honor what was begun by our ancestors – who Chadwick joins on the ancestral plane.
Rest in Power, Sleep in Peace King T’Challa. Wakanda Forever 🙅🏾♀️
Since then, Kamala ran for President, but was unsuccessful in making it to the primary stage. In the early days of her campaign, I wrote an article in the Root that went viral about the case for maintaining an open mind about her record as a prosecutor. One thing is for sure — people either love her or hate her. I often wonder why Senator Amy Klobucher is not facing the same brutal treatment that Kamala received about her past. Not that I advocate for tearing folks down, but if it is really about records and nothing else, there should be equal levels of scrutiny.
But that’s a post for another day.
While unfortunate, it was a joy to see Senator Harris dancing with her staff as her presidential campaign ended. It was a vision of grace and resilience in the face of intense disappointment; and generosity in attempting to lift the spirits of folks who worked so hard for the dream.
Thank you Senator Kamala Harris for continuing to be a Legal Diva of Color by blazing trials, and challenging us to do better daily!
Although the campaign trail has been absolutely insane, I could not let the month of February go without my “Legal Divas of Color” feature! Every Black History Month, I feature trailblazing female attorneys of color who laid the foundation for us to succeed. Today, I’m featuring Pamela Carter, who was the first African American woman elected to be a state attorney general in the nation!
Pamela Carter was born in 1949 in South Haven, Michigan. She received her undergraduate degree at University of Detroit; her Masters in Social Work at University of Michigan; and her law degree (Juris Doctor) at Indiana University School of Law. Before seeking statewide office, she worked for Indiana’s Secretary of State as an enforcement attorney.
She decided to take on an incumbent (Linley Pearson, no relation) for the seat of Indiana Attorney General. It was a brutal race and an uphill battle – she was a Democrat in a heavily Republican State. Only one African American had been elected to statewide office in Indiana before her. Nevertheless, she persisted! She won 52% – 48% in November of 1992.
Her election was historic. She became the first elected African American state Attorney General in the country; the first African American and the first female Attorney General in Indiana’s history; and the second African American to hold statewide office. She was also the first Democrat to serve in that post in 24 years.
Ms. Carter served from 1993-1997. She centered diversity in her administration by appointing women and minorities to senior positions where there were none previously. In reflecting on her term, she said “we had a fabulous office. We won more U.S. Supreme Court cases and more Best Brief Awards than any other attorney general’s office in the nation”.
For me, the last ten years have been a period of major growth. In the last decade:
I met and married my soulmate…
I found my voice, stride, confidence and purpose. It took a few setbacks and closed doors to realize what direction I should go; but all of the disappointments came together to lead me to this place.
I became President of the National Black Prosecutors Association which exposed me to real criminal justice reform work – from sitting in the houses in our community to sitting in the (Obama) White House. I saw the injustices that got perpetuated not necessarily from ill intent, but from not knowing any better (myself included).
I made the big leap of leaving a comfortable sixteen year position as a prosecutor to becoming Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. My viewpoints on life were vastly broadened — from learning about the struggles of the transgender community to deepening my work on criminal justice reform and its intersection with voting rights.
I traveled to the Motherland. This year I had life changing trip to South Africa, where I walked in the path of the late great freedom fighter/leader Nelson Mandela. During that time, not only did I see the roots of what would become an international resistance movement, I was able to advocate for the safety of women on an international scale.
I survived heartbreak and heartache of losing my mom; but also learned to jealously guard my mental health. Life will throw things at you that you believe you can never overcome. There will be days you can’t get out of bed. But day by day, step by step, it gets better. Be patient, and seek help from a professional if you need it.
Losing her also taught me to be fearless. Life is short; “sit and wait your turn” means you may never get a shot. Seize the day, make your own path and opportunity. Because you may look up and realize that you have less time than you planned on, and what then? Sit in regret? Nope, not me!
As we begin the dawn of a new decade, let’s take one final trip down memory lane on the Resident Legal Diva. It’s been such a blessing to be able to write, and share my thoughts with a wider audience. I admit I did not post as much as in previous years — lots going on — but thank you for the love that was received for my writing this year!! Here’s what you read the most from me:
Every Black History Month, I feature female trailblazers of color in the field of law upon whose example I built upon. Jewel Lafontant – Mankarious made history as a trailblazer in the field of prosecution.
This is a piece that continues to resonate with so many professionals of color. It started with an argument on Twitter (yes, this is definitely something to be left in the last decade) where a fellow attorney tried to explain to me that I should not be offended. At the end of the day, folks need to accept the following: if someone tells you xyz is offensive, don’t double down and keep doing it. Just..stop.
Jay Z received backlash over a few things in 2019; this one I don’t believe was justified at all. As we look at economic equality and gentrification, people of color are always on the receiving end of the push out, and never on the benefits. When gentrification arrives, it’s people of color who have to move further away from their jobs or conveniences we take for granted. Companies expand into newly gentrified neighborhoods, but it does not provide the jobs and economic advancement for the people who originally lived there. So now what? More incentives should be provided so that people do not have to leave their neighborhoods. And, as people of color get more means, we need to buy up the block so that no one else does. We have to empower our own neighborhoods — as well as protect our history.
The Jussie Smollett case garnered a great deal of attention on the role of a prosecutor — and how discretion should be used. I analyzed the case in the context of having done this work. Was everything handled perfectly? No, nothing ever is. But the backlash was excessive, and rooted in racism.
Cheryl Mills is known for her defense of President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearing. She is the first African American to address the United States Senate in her capacity as Associate Counsel for the President.
Clearly my readers love the posts on history, and I will endeavor to share more in the coming year!
More challenges lie ahead in the next few years, but I am excited to be able to continue serving the greater good and putting my criminal justice expertise to work.
Wishing you an amazing New Year and new decade. Thank you for reading, your comments and your support. May you find prosperity, happiness, and grow in your purpose!!