My Unlikely Decade of Transitions: Prosecutor – Writer – Activist – Beyond?

Greetings Fam,

Wow, today is the end of an era.

For me, the last ten years have been a period of major growth. In the last decade:

I met and married my soulmate…

The Cowboy & I at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

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.

Speaking on South African television in 2019 on gender based violence

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.

South Africa 2019

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!

My mother and I at on my wedding day in 2012. RIP Mama P.

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:

5. Legal Divas of Color: Jewel Lafontant – Mankarious

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.

4. “You’re So Articulate” Is Not A Compliment to a Woman of Color

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.

3. Jay Z Was Right: We Need to Gentrify Our Hood

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.

2. Kim Foxx Was Not Wrong: The Lonely Road of a Prosecutor of Color

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.

And the #1 post on RLD for 2019 is:

Legal Divas of Color: Cheryl Mills!

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!!

Legal Divas of Color: Cheryl Mills

Mills_NYFPC_648_1

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!