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!!
In the final days of the year (as well as the decade!) I’ve been working on the issue of bail reform. It’s sad to think many people will be spending the holidays behind bars due to poverty — not because they have been found guilty of a crime. There are some solid models around the country on how to reduce this. Please see my latest in the Florida Phoenix on how we can make our bail system more equitable.
Bail reform has received a lot of buzz lately.
Numerous states have implemented or are studying ways to make pretrial release systems more fair and effective, while improving public safety. Taxpayers are saving tens of millions of dollars otherwise wasted by keeping people unnecessarily locked up. So far, Florida is behind the curve.
Monetary bail – also known as bond – is designed to ensure that individuals who are arrested will appear in court for their scheduled court date.
In order to benefit from our current bail system, individuals who have been charged with crimes, but have not yet had their day in court and have not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, must pay approximately 10 percent of the total bond issued by the court to a bondsperson in order to return to their lives and families, pretrial.
The underlying premise is “come back or lose the money,” but the devil is in the details, as those relying on bondsmen lose their money regardless. The 10 percent is not returned, even if the person complies with the terms of release and/or is found not guilty.
This raises significant concerns over who actually benefits from this system. Should an individual who has not been convicted of any wrongdoing have to pay in order to secure their freedom pretrial?
The evil disease cancer took another woman dear to my heart.
My beloved friend Marion Hughes passed away on 11.1.19. Today would have been her birthday.
We met in 2008 on the NBS Summit in Breckenridge, Colorado. We were introduced to each other at Denver Airport, and by the time the two hour bus ride to our destination was complete, we were besties.
That day, I got altitude sickness. As a nurse, she immediately sprung into action. From then on, she always reminded me to do the best for my health.
She loved tennis, skiing, golf and retail therapy (aka shopping). Most of all, she loved leopard print. When I first saw one of her fab leopard print pieces, I complimented her on it. Her response, in her crisp British accent “nuff respect for the leopard darling”.
Her favorite thing to me over the years was “listen to your Auntie Marion. X is not a good idea”. She always made me laugh. We had a tradition of having lunch at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour – it was a good midway spot between our homes. We shared so many giggles and memories.
As she was fighting her battle with cancer, we sat at University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center reminiscing.
I told her “you have to recover. Leopard is in this season. It’s your season!”
She replied “sweetie, leopard never went out of style. Quality never does”.
She didn’t want to tell me about her diagnosis because she knew how tough it was losing my mom to the same disease. Much like my mom, she downplayed the severity until she could not anymore. Even still, she was feisty — we laughed to the end. And much like my mom, seeing me get married and be in a healthy, happy relationship made her so proud.
It’s always interesting to hear the untold stories at a funeral. Her family and close childhood friend from the UK shared how as a teen, she applied to work at a large grocery chain in her area. All was well until she arrived for her interview – suddenly no jobs were available. She was denied due to her race. In a concerted effort between her friends, community and family, she shamed the store and eventually was able to work there. I never knew the effect she had on race relations in her area. But that was Marion – never one to brag. She just did what had to be done and soldiered on.