A Tribute to Whitney – 6 years later…

A Tribute to Whitney – 6 years later…

February 11, 2012.

It was the night of our wedding rehearsal. The DJ was spinning great tunes, and friends/family from around the globe had joined us to celebrate our wedding the next day.

The news broke: Whitney Houston had been found dead in her hotel room.

My photographer had to step out of the room to collect himself. I was completely stunned. The DJ, herself in shock, agreed to play a tribute to Whitney during our wedding the next day. She did so — and we toasted her memory during our wedding dinner to the song “Exhale“. It was the perfect selection:

Sometimes you’ll laugh

Sometimes you’ll cry

Life never tells us

The when’s or why’s

When you’ve got friends to wish you well

You’ll find a point when

You will exhale

You may have noticed I write a fair amount of tributes to artists that pass away such as Prince and George Michael. This is because (cliche as it may seem), music is truly the soundtrack of my life. I often have a song lyric for any given situation. As with most people, music will rocket me back to a place, a time, or a person.

With Whitney, she takes me back…

…To summer camp as a teen in Toronto, where our project was to do a group lip sync performance to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“.

…To watching the 1988 Olympics and remembering how her voice in “One Moment in Time” would give me simultaneous chills and pride.

…To the New York City club scene in the ’90’s with the remix of “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK“. That song is still a timeless anthem that will bring down the house at a club, party, drag show, or just about anywhere else to this day.

And of course, to my wedding day.

How she met her end was tragic; in my opinion, no artist to this day could match her vocal range. Her legal troubles, drug use and troubled marriage highlighted the dark side of fame.

But in the end, she left the world, and me in particular, with a great soundtrack to life’s memories.

Sleep in Power, Rest In Peace Whitney Houston. We’ll always love you.

Legal Divas of Color: Mildred Loving

Legal Divas of Color: Mildred Loving

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Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967 courtesy of Francis Miller/The Life Picture Collection/Getty

Usually, my Legal Divas of Color series features female attorneys that have been trailblazers in our world. But after seeing the Oscar nominated movie Loving  [finally], I was moved to switch gears in my final Legal Diva of Color for Black History Month 2017.

Mildred Loving was a woman of color who married the love of her life.

Small problem: he was white, and it was the 50’s in America. This was at a time in history when there were laws for bidding interracial marriage (called miscegenation laws). The couple lived in Virginia, but went to Washington DC where interracial marriage was legal to get married. After being arrested (snatched out of their beds in the middle of the night while she was far along in her pregnancy with their first child), a long legal battle ensued. The Lovings pled guilty to violating the “Racial Integrity Act“, with the condition that they do not live in the state of Virginia for 25 years.  The Lovings were close to their extended family; the forced separation began to take a toll. After urging from a family member, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He was not able to help her, but he referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The legal battle continued, winding its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Finally, they received relief with the ability to live as man and wife in 1967.

The tragic ending of the story is that Richard Loving passed away seven years after they won their battle — killed by a drunk driver. Mildred never remarried, and lived in the house that he built for her until the day she passed away. When interviewed before she passed away in 2008, she said “I miss Richard. He took care of me”.

That was one of many times I was brought to tears during the course of the movie. It was very much a love story as well as a legal battle. The Lovings overcame so much just to be together but they did not get their “forever” story in this life.

When I heard that quote, I think back to this weekend where I was struggling with a really bad cold. As I was laying down mouth breathing, my husband calls to me from the next room “did you use Vicks vapor rub?” I couldn’t give much of an answer because I felt so terrible. He came in, rubbed the afflicted areas, gave me a kiss, and left the room to continue what he was doing. I think of those small tender moments in the context of love, and what Mildred was missing for those years after her Richard passed away.

The other emotional part of the movie for me was the involvement of the ACLU in fighting for this couple and all couples to follow be able to marry who they love. The Loving case is part of the basis used to obtain the rights for gays to marry in America. This case has so many ripples; if the ACLU did not take on the battle, it would be a very different story. My husband and I, as well of hundreds of thousands of other couples since then, would not be able to legally be with who they love.

I am so proud to be a part of this organization. When asked during my interview why I wanted to come to the ACLU, I said quite simply “Loving vs. Virginia. If it was not for the ACLU, I would not be married to the love of my life.”

As an interesting footnote, most states struck down their miscegenation laws immediately after the Loving ruling. Alabama, however, was the last to do so in 2000. 40% of the population voted to keep this law, even though it was unconstitutional.

Although she is an unlikely heroine, Mildred Loving is one nonetheless. Mildred Loving, thank you for being a Legal Diva of color, paving the way for people to marry who they love  regardless of race or gender.

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Iconic Life Magazine photo of the couple, taken by Grey Villet 

See the original news report below:

Legal Divas of Color: Jasmine Twitty

Legal Divas of Color: Jasmine Twitty

The RLD Black History Month segment continues with our Legal Divas of Color.  Black history is always evolving, with people of color breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes.

Often when folks think of millennials, they think of a spoiled generation who lives at home for as long as they can.

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Jasmine Twitty challenged that perception by becoming the youngest judge in South Carolina history in August of 2015. At the age of 25, she has reached a goal that, as many can attest, others have spent their lives pursuing with no success.

Judge Twitty is a Greenville, South Carolina native.  She graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in Political Science.  Before ascending to the bench, she was a court clerk in Greenville’s 24 hour bond court.  She worked nights and weekends, learning about the court system.  In 2011, she decided that becoming a municipal judge was the path for her. As she put it in an interview with Jenna Regan  of the blog  “Smart Girls”, she became intentional about her goal.

She sought a judicial appointment in the town of Easley, South Carolina.  In South Carolina, the city council is the body that appoints judges for the municipal court.  It is not required that one be a lawyer, or a resident of the town in which they seek appointment.  After going through the interview process (which can be quite intense), she finally attained her goal in 2015. As a non lawyer, Judge Twitty had to complete a training program, and pass a certification exam.  She will have to take continuing education courses, and be re-certified every eight years.

See the interview Judge Twitty gave to local television station WSPA a few months after her appointment.

At the end of the day, you have to go for opportunities, and not self deselect.  So many times women, especially women of color, put extra requirements on themselves in addition to the qualifications they already have. “I’ll be ready to apply x position after I do xyz“.  She may be overqualified, and yet she is still doubting herself. Others fall into the trap of “I need to wait my turn”.  Judge Twitty is the perfect example — if you want it, go for it!

Best of luck to you Judge Twitty, and thank you for being  a Legal Diva of Color!

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Legal Divas of Color: Ada Louis Sipuel

Legal Divas of Color: Ada Louis Sipuel

Hello RLD Family,

Well, it’s that time of the year again! Every year during Black History Month, I do a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”. The purpose of the series is to highlight the accomplishments of female attorneys of color — women who have been trailblazers in their own right in the legal community. 


Many of you have heard of the landmark education discrimination case “Brown v. The Board of Education“. However, before the Brown case, there was Ada Louis Sipuel. Ms. Sipuel was born in Oklahoma in 1924. She endured much during her childhood due to growing up during the height of the Jim Crow era. Her house was burned; her father, who was a pastor, was jailed unjustly. Ms. Sipuel lived in a time where lynchings of African-Americans were the norm. All of these experiences gave her a burning desire to see justice served, and to become a lawyer. However, the law school in Oklahoma did not allow students of color. Students who wanted to pursue a law degree were forced to go out of state, most notably to Howard University School of Law. The concept of “separate but equal” meant that segregated schools were the norm. Of course, although equal on paper, the schools were not equal in reality. White schools had better resources, leading to a wider array of opportunities for graduates. In 1946, Ms. Sipuel applied to the law school at the University of Oklahoma. The law school president  reviewed her transcript, and indicated that there was no academic reason for her not to be accepted — only the color of her skin.  

With this information in hand, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund took on her case. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Supreme Court justice [the first African-American to do so] argued masterfully as to why these “separate but equal” laws were unjust. The court agreed;  Ms. Sipuel was allowed to enroll at the University of Oklahoma law school. The state of Oklahoma tried to get around this ruling by hastily building another school just for her but that plan failed. She then finally entered the law school with white students in 1949. Of course, knowing the time period, this was a difficult road for her. She was forced to sit at the back of the class with on the bench with a sign “Coloreds Only”.  Despite the obstacles, she persevered and graduated in 1952.

She decided to use her law degree as a teacher after briefly practicing law. She became a faculty member at the all Black Langston University, rising to become the chair of the Department of Social Sciences. Her alma mater finally righted the past wrongs by appointing her to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in 1992. Once segregated against, she then was able to run the school that had treated her unfairly.

Ms. Sipuel passed away in 1995. Hear more of her intriguing story as told by her son Bruce. 

Thank you Ada Louis Sipuel for being Legal Diva of Color, paving the way for millions of African-Americans to be able to attain legal degrees. I would not be here without your sacrifice.

Ada Sipuel signing the register of attorneys, 1952 Barney Hillerman Collection

Legal Divas of Color: Darcel Clark

Legal Divas of Color: Darcel Clark

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The third Legal Diva of Color this month is Darcel Clark. On January 16 of this year, Ms. Clark made history as being the first woman to become the Bronx  District Attorney, and the first African American female District Attorney in the State of New York!

Her path to success was certainly not an easy one. As a true “daughter of the Bronx”, she hails from the Soundview section of the borough.  Her parents both worked tough jobs, but took the time to be involved in their community.  These early lessons clearly rubbed off on their daughter. Ms. Clark attended New York City public schools, then went on to receive her undergraduate degree at Boston College, and her law degree at Howard University.

Upon graduation, she returned to the Bronx and never left. Ms. Clark was a prosecutor for 13 years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, rising to the rank of Supervisor of the Narcotics Bureau, and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Court Bureau.  In 1999, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed Ms Clark to the bench.  She served as a judge for a total of 16 years before winning the coveted position of District Attorney in a landslide election in November 2015.

Ms. Clark stated in her swearing in speech at Lehman College:

“I can say to any little girl, you know, if you work really hard, you can go on to law school, you can become an Assistant District Attorney, you can become a judge and then you can become District Attorney of the Bronx,”

The new District Attorney will focus on wrongful convictions, corruption, gun violence, and reforming the Rikers Island jail complex.

Thank you Darcel Clark, for making history, and being a Legal Diva of Color!

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Legal Divas of Color: Cheryl Mills

Legal Divas of Color: Cheryl Mills

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The second Legal Diva of Color to be featured in this month’s series is Cheryl Mills.  Ms. Mills set the world on fire with her impassioned defense of then President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings in 1999.  In doing so, she became the first African American to address the Senate at such a hearing.

Cheryl Mills was born to a military family. Her father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army.  As a result, she moved quite a bit as a child.  She received her Bachelors at the University of Virginia, graduating as part of Phi Beta Kappa (exclusively for those who have high grades and good moral standing).  Ms. Mills went on to Stanford Law School, where she was selected to join Stanford Law Review. Again, this is an honor saved for the most gifted in the law school class.

Upon graduation, she worked at the Washington D.C. power broker firm Hogan and Hartson.  In 1993, Ms. Mills became the Associate Counsel to President Clinton. Her role was quiet until Ken Starr, the independent prosecutor, filed charges of obstruction and perjury against President Clinton, in part for the handling of his affairs with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. It was the second day of the hearings in January of 1998 that brought Cheryl Mills to center stage.  She presented President Clinton as a flawed human being, but not a criminal.  She is often remembered for stating:

“I stand here before you today because President Bill Clinton believed I could stand here for him … I’m not worried about civil rights, because this President’s record on civil rights, on women’s rights, on all of our rights is unimpeachable.

Obviously, what she said worked,  because the Senate voted not to impeach President Clinton.

Her path continued with a break from the practice of law to become the Senior Vice President for Corporate Policy and Public Programming at Oxygen Media. Ms. Mills then went to work at (my alma mater) New York University, handling labor related matters.  DC kept calling — she returned to Washington to serve as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Counselor and Chief of Staff in 2009.  She was called to a Senate hearing yet again as part of the Benghazi inquiry.

Currently, she is the founder and CEO of the BlackIvy Group, which builds businesses in Africa.  Her philanthropic endeavors also include sitting on a number of boards in the Washington DC area.

Thank you Cheryl Mills for being a Legal Diva of Color!

 

Legal Divas of Color: Jewel Lafontant- Mankarious

Legal Divas of Color: Jewel Lafontant- Mankarious

Every February, in honor of Black History Month, I feature a series called “Legal Divas of Color“. These are African-American female attorneys who blazed the trail on which I am honored to follow, as well as acknowledging those who are doing big things today. Feel free to browse past features and share your comments!

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This year’s first Legal Diva of Color is Jewel Lafontant- Mankarious.

Ms. Lafontant- Mankarious was born April 22, 1928 in Chicago, IL. It was as if her path was predetermined; her father Francis Stafford was an attorney who practiced before the United States Supreme Court, and was a co-founder of the National Bar Association, which is a voluntary bar association for African-Americans. In 1946, Ms. Lafontant- Mankarious became the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School.

In the early years of her practice, she partnered with her husband in a family law firm, and also worked at the Chicago Legal Aid Society. However her work did not go unnoticed. She made history again when she was appointed as an Assistant US Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois by President Eisenhower in 1955 — the first African American in that office. She held that post until 1958, when she returned to private practice. 1963 brought Ms. Lafontant- Mankarious another historic moment — being the first African American woman to argue a case before the US Supreme Court. The case she argued set the groundwork for Miranda vs. Arizona (the case we get our Miranda rights from). President Nixon tapped her talents to be the first female and the first African American Deputy Solicitor General in 1973, a post she held until 1975. While she returned to private practice, her public service continued under President Bush, serving as Ambassador at large and US coordinator for refugee affairs from 1989-1993. She practiced law until her death from breast cancer in 1997. Hear an interview with her here.

Thank you Jewel Lafontant- Mankarious for being a Legal Diva of Color, blazing the trail for African American prosecutors on both the state and federal level!

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Legal Divas of Color: Kamala Harris

Legal Divas of Color: Kamala Harris

kamala harrisContinuing in my Black History Month Legal Divas of Color series, I now bring you Kamala Harris. Although I featured Ms. Harris last year (read the post here), she’s doing even bigger things in 2015!

When current United States Senator for California Barbara Boxer announced that she would not be running for re-election in 2016, Kamala Harris announced that she would run! In her statement, she said “I want to be a voice for all Californians”

In the days that followed, Ms. Harris picked up endorsements from some heavy hitters, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (whose name is still being discussed as a potential Presidential candidate).

If elected, Kamala Harris would be the first Indian American in the US Senate.  She is descended of a Jamaican American father and an Indian mother. Ms. Harris has also just been sworn in for her 2nd term as Attorney General for the State of California.

Thank you Kamala Harris, for continuing to push boundaries, being a great role model, and being a present day Legal Diva of Color!

Legal Divas of Color: Kamala Harris

Legal Divas of Color: Kamala Harris

So for the last few posts, I focused on historic Legal Divas of Color…now it’s time to talk about TODAY’S Legal Divas, still breaking boundaries!

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Kamala Harris is the current Attorney General for the State of California.  She is the FIRST woman of color to hold this position. Born October 20, 1964, she has packed a great deal of accomplishments into her time on Earth thus far.  Her mother is a doctor from India; her father is a Jamaican American economics professor at Stanford University.  A California girl through and through, she was born and raised in Oakland, spending some time in Montreal, Canada.  Ms. Harris completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University, and received her juris doctor from University of California, Hastings School of Law.

In her professional life, she served as the Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County, CA, then became the Managing Attorney for the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco DA’s Office. After a short management stint at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, she was elected to be the District Attorney of San Francisco! Ms. Harris held that post for 7 years and two elections,  until she was elected to the position of Attorney General in 2010. The Los Angeles Daily Journal ranked her as one of the top 100 attorneys in California.

One of the aspects that struck me about Ms. Harris is her anti-death penalty stance.  As the head prosecutor, she has received pressure to seek the death penalty on the criminal cases of several different defendants charged with murder.  She made it very clear that although she was against the death penalty in general, she would review each case individually.  After review, she had opted to seek the penalty life without parole instead of death, mostly because she believes it is a more cost-effective and better punishment option.  She did not bow to pressure, but chose to do what she believed was right.

In between all of this, she authored a book entitled “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer“. Ms. Harris was at the forefront in implementing community programs to  address crime and work with the community to reduce recidivism.

Kamala Harris, I thank you for being an ORIGINAL Legal Diva, and being a great role model for me!

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Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry

Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry

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Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry

Born in Miami, Florida in 1923, Gwen Sawyer Cherry was a trailblazer like no other.  She earned three degrees between 1946 and 1965, while mothering two children.  Her bachelor’s degree and law degree were from Florida A&M University; she also earned a master’s degree in science from New York University and studied at three other out-of-state universities. She later returned to FAMU to be a law professor.

Upon her graduation from law school, Ms. Cherry became Miami-Dade County’s first African American female attorney.

After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Ms. Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970. Ms. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida Legislature.  While in office, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, chaired the state’s committee for International Woman’s Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas. Additionally, Ms. Cherry chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s Miami chapter.

Tragically, Ms. Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in 1979. In his eulogy, then Florida Governor Graham called Gwen Cherry  ‘a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern.’

At FAMU, a lecture hall was dedicated to Ms. Cherry for all of her hard work and dedication. There is a park in Miami that bears her name, as a testament to her work to benefit the youth.

In 2005, what was previously known as the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County chapter was renamed Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in her honor.

I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for this organization.

Gwen S. Cherry, I thank you for being one of the ORIGINAL Legal Divas!!