It was March of 2012. I took an extended trip to New York from Florida to spend time with my mother, who was battling cervical cancer. She had hid from me how bad it was since I had just gotten married weeks before, and she didn’t want me to worry. After collapsing and being hospitalized, I discovered the full extent of what the disease was doing to her.
We were hanging out at home one afternoon, and she was going through some of her things. She handed me a silver bracelet and said “here, take this. I don’t need it anymore“.
Of course, silly me did not grasp what she was doing. I was there thinking “she figures she’s not going out to any fancy events“.
Denial is a powerful thing.
When she passed away weeks later, it was the bracelet that gave me a modicum of comfort. Some nights I would go to sleep after clutching it and weeping uncontrollably.
As time went on, it became a symbol of her companionship. I’d get ready for a challenging meeting or an interview, and I’d say “ok Ma, don’t let me say anything crazy. Help me get my point across“.
Now, sometimes I’ll just tap it. It’s enough to center me, channeling some of her strength, eloquence and energy.
On this, the 7th Mother’s Day without her, I reflect. I still grieve, but it’s less crippling than in past years.
This week I published a post on the power of the little things (if you missed it, see it here). Something as small as a silver bracelet can mean so much.
Today, cherish the little (and the big) things that your Mom taught you or gave you. A Mom is beyond blood; it’s an emotional connection to a woman who pushes you forward to your future. Ties that bind can be biological, emotional or spiritual.
If you are without your mom today, I hope that the memories, along with the love of those around you, will help you through the day.
So as many of you know, I am obsessed with spinning. Most importantly, spinning at SoulCycle. I embarked on a challenge to complete 15 classes in 30 days. Between my schedule, exhaustion, and just life, it was a lofty goal for me, but I tried for it anyway. Saturday was my 10th class. The staff of SoulCycle South Beach left me a card at my spinning bike. It was a note of encouragement to keep pushing to my 15 class goal, to show appreciation for my efforts and my loyalty for coming to the studio as a local resident (we get many tourists due to being in South Beach).
I don’t know whether it was stress, or some other driving factor, but the card made me quite emotional. It was such a little thing — a small gesture, a token appreciation, a word of encouragement.
Often people over look at the little things and how important it can be for someone. For you it’s something small; but for someone it could be something huge that they need it right now.
In my new journey in leadership, I’ve had some growing pains. Being a social justice warrior part time is one thing; but when it’s your whole existence, it can take a toll on your soul. Additionally, you have to make sure that you’re growing in leadership. Since people look to you as a leader, you feel the pressure to make sure you are doing it right — that you’re really motivating your team and looking at the big picture.
In that spirit, I took a day off from work to fly out of state to see someone I greatly respect. I walked away from our lunch with two critical points; to always live in my truth, and to always focus on what is right.
Living your truth means not only telling the truth, but acknowledging when something is hurting you — when someone is hurting you. Being vocal is critical so that your own mental state can be preserved. Many times we hold in resentment, we hold in things that are wrong, or we accept certain treatment because we think we’re supposed to. That is not living in your truth, and creates a level of stress that is detrimental to you professionally as well as to your health. Stress truly kills.
Also, the key is to focus on always doing what’s right. You may not always get it right, but if your motivation is to do what is right, what is good for the organization and what is good for your fellow person, then you are on the right track.
This journey has been a serious learning curve for me. It is really teaching me the value of the little things: receiving hug from a friend, giving hugs to my father, a beautiful sunny day, an enthusiastic puppy, a really great song that comes on in the car, or an unexpected note cheering you on.
It’s the little things that help us deal when life comes at you fast.
Every Black History Month, I have done a series on this blog on the topic of “Legal Divas of Color”. The intent is to highlight African-American women who are doing great things in the legal field. Many serve as an inspiration to me to keep fighting the good fight and pushing the boundaries as far as they can go. It is also a reminder that the term “diva” is not a pejorative term; a diva is a woman who is strong, self-assured, and commands her worth.
When one thinks of the state of Alabama, sadly what comes to mind is the long history of racism and segregation. One thinks of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King; the actions of brutal police officers; and the last state in the country to overturn miscegenation laws as required by the Supreme Court.
However, Election Day 2016 showed that times are slowly changing in this southern state. 10 female attorneys of color rose to the highest positions that one can hold in the legal field in Jefferson County. The newly elected District Attorney is Lynneice Washington; and nine women of color were elected judges in Jefferson County. The nine new judges are Javan Patton, Debra Bennett Winston, Shera Craig Grant, Nakita “Niki” Perryman Blocton, Tamara Harris Johnson, Elisabeth French, Agnes Chappell, Brendette Brown Green and Annetta Verin.
District Attorney Lynneice Washington ran on a progressive platform of reforming/reducing the use of the death penalty, creating alternatives to incarceration for low level offenders, and creating a citizens-police advisory board. In doing so, she defeated the incumbent who had been appointed to the position after the retirement of his successor.
These wins are even more significant when you look at the fact that the current administration carried Alabama, and defeated Hillary Clinton resoundingly.
In this day and age, there seems to be a resurgence of the “tough on crime” rhetoric coming from the Justice Department and the White House. These policies have proven to be ineffective, leading to mass incarceration and no rehabilitation to be found in the criminal justice system. Now, there is a rise of a more progressive approach to criminal justice, which has shown to be effective in reducing recidivism and integrating people back into their communities. This is why it is more important than ever to elect progressive district attorneys and judges so that the whole defendant is being considered, as well as what is right for the victim, and the community at large. Local politics have become more critical in criminal justice than national policy. Groups such as the ACLU, and activists such as Shaun King are mounting voter education campaigns on this critical issue.
The wave of power seen in Jefferson County, Alabama is absolutely historic. I look upon these wins as hope for the future!
Congratulations ladies for being Legal Divas of Color.
Please see the bios of the nine judges here as well as a great piece detailing the District Attorney Lynneice Washington’s plans for the future of her county.
I think the theme for 2017 was WTH??? Definitely life as we knew it changed dramatically. It was a mixed bag — we saw a rise in hatred, but we also saw a rise in people fighting back. People raised their voices as a collective to say “this is not what America stands for”.
Now that the year is coming to an end, I actually had a moment to breathe, and acknowledge that my posts have not been as consistent as I would like. No excuses – just reality!
My new job at the ACLU of Florida has been amazing. With it, I received a very steep learning curve, of which I am still on the front side. However, I am learning from the best team in the country, so hopefully I’ll make more strides next year! The transition from prosecutor to full time social justice warrior has been interesting. I miss the courtroom and being able to work with victims of crime. But a whole new world has opened up to me. I get to speak regularly on issues that I care deeply about, with no fear of repercussions. I can keep it “100”, which is so refreshing. I’ve been writing for work as well — check out my death penalty piece in the Tampa Bay Times, as well as my work in support of State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s discretion in death penalty cases.
In the process of this new journey, I have not been able to share as much as I would like to on the blog.
There is also an emotional piece. When I was a prosecutor, discussing social justice issues was not my main job. I infused it when I could, but it was not a daily act. Now that it is my job, and in the current toxic environment, it’s become harder, and sometimes exhausting.
It’s no longer about educating folks on the system.
It’s now having basic discussions like Nazis are evil, pedophilia is a crime, and we need to believe victims.
It’s not about debating the finer points of policing. I’m now having to discuss my basic humanity as a person of color.
It’s left me like WTH? How did we get here?
But we were always here. It was artfully hidden by pretense, political correctness and the false sense of complacency after the election of President Obama.
So what now?
I keep fighting, keep resisting. I pledge to you to continue to bring you quality content when I can. But, the new year awaits — one of my goals is to focus more on writing — not just for RLD, Huffington Post and Blavity, but for newspapers as well. In order for me to grow as a writer, I need to be more intentional about how I work. Stay tuned!
Before we close the year that was, let’s take a look at the top 5 pieces on the Resident Legal Diva for 2017! Be sure to click the link in the title to see the original post.
I shared my personal experience with sexual harassment, which was super tough to do. I realized that I’m a wee bit more of a private person than I first thought; but it was critical (in my opinion) that more voices be heard. It originally appeared in Blavity, and received a ton of feedback wherever it was shared. As Gabrielle Union stated, and as we learned from the revelations coming from the floor of the Ford factory, sexual harassment is not a rich white woman Hollywood problem. It is a disease of power and entitlement — which can take many forms.
#BlackWomenAtWork was trending on Twitter, and many of us shared experiences of how some folks can be dismissive or downright insulting of our abilities, I shared how “you’re so articulate” is not a compliment — it’s backhanded at best and based in the stereotypes of where or how a woman that looks like me should be in life.
2017 saw the first African American elected prosecutor in Florida take office. She took the stance that she will not seek the death penalty in any murder case in her jurisdiction. Governor Rick Scott promptly took away her death penalty eligible cases, and the legislature later cut funding for her office. I believe that his was a gross overreach of his power — it should be the voters who decide what direction their community and their public servants go in. Prosecutors are given wide discretion for a reason; re-election (or not) is the way to send a message as to what is acceptable.
I shared my disturbing encounter with a law enforcement officer in the Huffington Post as well as the RLD. It was my personal reminder that following the rules to the best of your ability does not guarantee your safety as a person of color; this is NOT the way it should be.
Thank you to each and every one you who have supported, commented, read, shared, and suggested post ideas. As I enter my 5th year of the RLD, I look forward to making it stronger while continuing to educate folks on life and the law! If you have a question or a topic you want me to write about, tell me in the comments or contact me.
Last week, when I was coming back from the ACLU staff conference in Phoenix, I had another disturbing encounter with TSA regarding my hair. For those of you that have seen my social media posts or know me, you know that I am on the road constantly. I’m steady racking up those frequent flyer miles. So it was a little surprising to me when I was randomly selected for a search. I went through the machine, joking with the TSA agent as to why I never get randomly selected to get $20 million. He responded “I’d even take $10,000”. We chuckled and I continued through the machine. A different agent told me I needed to wait for a female scanner to pat me down. I waited patiently.
Back in 2011, TSA was under fire for racially profiling women of color. I have gone through security many times; anytime I was pulled out of the line it was to do an inspection of my hair.
My hair is not a threat. I’m waiting to hear one story of a woman of color who smuggled a weapon in her hair.
All that comes to mind is the clip from the original blaxploitation movie from 1974 Foxy Brown, where the amazing Pam Grier in the lead role concealed a gun in her Afro to avenge her man’s killer.
But that is never happened in real life or at airport as far as I have been able to tell.
I know that we have made so many high tech advances; how come agents can’t scan and see that there’s no metal or weapon in my hair? I just find it more than a little annoying that my hair is perceived as a threat. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about safety and security. But there also needs to be a reasonable basis for a search, not just having different hair to perceived norms. If there has been no precedent for it, then what’s the issue?
At this juncture, I am not going to file a complaint. I’m more annoyed than aggrieved. But I will start documenting this issue to see if there is a pattern (area of the country, time of day, etc). So my fellow ladies with locs, we’re going to be have to be vigilant on this issue. Because profiling is never ok.
Please check out information from the ACLU about your rights at the airport.
Has anyone else experienced or witnessed this? Please share!
As I watched the #BlackWomenAtWork trend on Twitter, I was given life and inspiration. African-American women from all over the country, and arguably women of color all over the world, shared examples of times that they were belittled, insulted, or otherwise demeaned for being who they are. This hashtag was in response to Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Fox news host Bill O’Reilly as well as Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s degrading treatment of correspondent April Ryan at a White House press briefing. Both are women of color, well accomplished in their fields.
I shared my experiences on Twitter– which were previously shared on this blog (see here) — under this hashtag,
A conservative female attorney I am acquainted with responded to my thread, saying “well, maybe it was just a compliment; you really are articulate“. Her statement is symptomatic of the deeper problem of when something is brought to the attention of some in the mainstream, often folks feel the need to dismiss it, refusing to look at the deeper issue. In my response, I encouraged her to read through the hashtag, and understand the context in which this was being shared. I noted that one of her followers indicated “Some people have a chip on their shoulder and can’t accept a compliment“.
Here’s the deal. As the saying goes, don’t urinate on me and tell me it’s raining. Human beings are intelligent enough to know when they are being complimented, and when they’re being insulted. You will never see one white attorney compliment another white attorney and say “wow, you are so articulate”. That comment is rooted in a stereotype and surprise. The stereotype is that African-Americans are uneducated, live in the hood, and cannot form complete sentences. Mainstream media and BET have not helped that cause. And certainly the demise of the Cosby show didn’t help in that either. But be that as it may, that is the stereotype. The surprise comes in “oh wow you’ve beat the odds to actually be able to speak in full sentences“. That is not a compliment. A compliment would be “wow I really liked your presentation” or even “you really articulated that point very well“. But to tell a professional woman or man of color that they are articulate is at best a backhanded compliment. Wow, people that look like you never sound that way. It assumes of course as all stereotypes do, that you were poor, in the hood, and was never going to have a chance to succeed. That is simply not the case. If a similarly situated White person rose from poverty and made it, nobody turns to them and says ohyou’re so articulate. They actually assume that the individual came from a privileged background.
The entire context of the hashtag represents the assumptions and stereotypes that are made of women of color in the workforce. Here are a couple I found telling:
These assumptions and stereotypes can be based in racism, but others can be based in implicit bias. It is the unconscious bias that one may have towards a group of people. We all have a biases; it is how we act is a different story. The key is to be aware and if someone says “this is offensive to me” don’t tell them that they have no right to be offended. You learn from the experience, and move forward as a better person. I expect someone to correct me if I did something offensive, endeavoring never to repeat that mistake again. But it is the tone deafness, or simply the lack of care for your fellow person, that makes these hashtags necessary.
At times, I wonder if it serves more of a supportive dialogue within races rather than a dialogue between races. Only time will tell.
Last Sunday, I had the honor of returning to Channel 10 news Roundtable, “This Week in South Florida”. It was an outstanding time. We got really deep in the debate as to whether or not Governor Scott was wrong to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case for her stance on the death penalty; the fact that no charges were filed in the death of Darren Rainey [the inmate who was boiled to death by prison guards], and lastly, the ongoing debate on healthcare. It definitely got heated at times but it was a healthy debate on the issues. In case you missed it, check out the link here and share your thoughts! The Roundtable begins at 26 minutes.
I was really excited and honored to be a part of WPLG South Florida Channel 10 Roundtable this past Sunday. On “This Week in South Florida”, my fellow panelists and I debated the topics of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as well as immigration. I had a great time, and will be on again next Sunday.
As the segment ended, we started to talk about the false narrative that immigrants commit more crimes then United States citizens. That is patently untrue; I saw this in the courtroom when I was a prosecutor. A recent study published in the New York Times said what I already knew – – immigrants commit crime at half the rate of natural born citizens. Please see the link to that article here.
I know some of you have lost loved ones this year as I have. It is tough going through the holidays — you are joyful on one hand, because the year has come to an end and you get to spend time with those you love. On the other hand, there is always an empty seat at the table as well as in your heart. Here is a piece I wrote on surviving the holidays when grieving — I hope this helps you get through it.
Tips for Grieving
Take it day by day, minute by minute. Don’t think beyond today. It’s easier that way.
It’s a rollercoaster. You will feel a ton of emotions – anger one minute, crying the next, laughing for a moment. It’s totally normal although it feels weird. You’re working through all those memories and emotions at the same time, and that’s how it manifests itself. Take it one step at a time, and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judgment.