I shared this as a letter to the membership of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association.
I share this with you, because we are in a pivotal moment in our country.
Statistically, we are all either survivors of sexual abuse or close to someone who is. Be kind to each other. But even more important, take action.
STATEMENT ON JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION PROCEEDINGS
Like many of you, I saw the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh yesterday.
It was a tough day.
I remember 27 years ago when another victim came forward— Anita Hill. She was lambasted as a political plant and trying to “hold a good black man down”. Her story was dismissed, with her name being shamed. We later discovered there was corroborating evidence of her statement that was withheld in order to assure the confirmation of Clarence Thomas.
Here we are again. Multiple women have come forward, with one testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Ford reminded me of so many victims I worked with as a prosecutor— frightened, embarrassed, yet determined to tell her story.
But what is different than a criminal trial is that Dr. Ford was not facing a jury of her peers. She was facing a group of mostly older white men, who wished for her to disappear.
To be clear, GSCBWLA is nonpartisan. But we stand for justice and the rule of law. We join the American Bar Association in calling for the FBI to conduct a full investigation to ensure that the same mistakes made with Anita Hill are not repeated. This is the highest judicial office in the land, with the ability to change the country for decades to come. It can’t be rushed; it must be gotten right. I have to note that while there were intellectual disagreements about the viewpoints of Justice Neil Gorsuch, not one person came forward to question his integrity or decency. The same applies to every other sitting justice, with the exception of Justice Thomas.
Lastly, but most importantly, I must address those brave individuals — male and female — who have survived sexual assault or abuse. We stand with you. We believe you. Please practice self care, because the pain of watching the news this week can trigger the past and be emotionally damaging. Seek professional counseling if you need it. The Florida Bar has resources; if you attended the WLOC Summit, one of our presenters, Dr. Delvena Thomas, specializes in emotional trauma
These numbers are a reminder why we need to lift up victims, and end the cycle of rape culture.
If you want to take action, call Senator Marco Rubio (or the Senator in your home jurisdiction) and tell him to delay the confirmation at 202-224-3121.
Additionally, you can volunteer at a domestic violence or rape crisis shelter to provide help to women in need.
The takeaway for me is that more women need to run for office – especially the Senate – to end the chokehold of the old boys club. We have miles to go on the topic of sexual assault in America. But nothing is impossible – every journey starts with a single step.
Melba V. Pearson, Esq.
Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association
Hey RLD Family! I took a bit of a summer hiatus..but I’m baaaack! It’s time to explore the importance of wills, especially for people of color. This is my first piece published for the blog The 94 Percent.
Aretha Franklin. Prince. Bob Marley. Barry White. Marvin Gaye. Tupac. The list of celebrities of color that have died without a will goes on and on.
As we grieve the latest loss of musical icon, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, we should also take the opportunity to learn some lessons. Many in our community seem to think that wills are for white people. As a result, they do not seek the protections they need and often die intestate (without a will).
I was saddened to learn that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand. When the news broke, I was in Paris for a work trip; he was also in France filming his show “Parts Unknown”. He has always been someone I wanted to meet. I’ve read his novels (Gone Bamboo, Bone in Throat). I followed his shows from Travel Channel to CNN’s Parts Unknown. Anthony had the coolest adventures, dove into a country’s politics head first, and provided me with even more countries for my travel bucket list.
In the last few episodes I watched, I thought he didn’t look good. He was thinner, more gray, and seemed to be going through the motions. The joy was no longer in his eyes. He was less of a prankster.
The signs were there – something was wrong.
As I realized in the last couple of years in my own life, travelling for work can be perilous. It seems glam at first —but after the newness subsides, it gets really overwhelming. Another hotel, another bed, the air conditioning in the room is not quite right, preventing a good night’s sleep. By always being away, you miss friend’s birthdays, events, dinner parties. You start to feel isolated. Add depression to the mix, and it becomes a deadly combination. You do it because you love the work (hopefully), but it can be killing you.
It’s possible that’s what happened to Anthony.
People often look at celebrities, or regular folks and say “but what do they have to be depressed about?! So and so has money, fame, a beautiful house and spouse.” The trappings of material things do not address internal emotional pain. The mindset that one has “no reason” to be depressed often serves as a barrier to either giving or getting the help that is needed.
Depression can result from any of a number of things — a “reason” is not required.
Depression is incredibly horrendous. No matter how awesome your life may be on the outside or on social media, your heart may be breaking. When you’re deeply depressed, death speaks to you. It’s like the siren’s song. It says “come sweetie, I’ll make you feel better. I’ll end this pain”. After drinking, drugs, or a painful event, she’s even more seductive. You need the voices of friends and family to drown it out, as well as a great therapist — sometimes including medication.
Depression is not something that can be prayed away, or ignored. You don’t just “get over it”. It takes work, and you literally have to fight for your life. You will have setbacks. You will have days you can’t get out of bed. Sometimes the medication prescribed to you doesn’t help, and you need a new formula. The fight is worth it because it does get better.
If you have never been in this much pain, you are lucky. It’s not because you are strong or better than someone who has been there. It’s like being in a car accident. Some people never have had one; others have. Some people get horribly depressed, others don’t. But just the same way you do not judge someone for having a car accident, you should not judge someone for depression. It’s easy to say about Anthony “oh how selfish, what about his child”. In his pain, he may have thought he was doing her a favor. Remember, depression has a powerful voice in your head, grossly distorting reality.
Never underestimate the pain of another. Be kind to others. I read a beautiful thread on Twitter of how a group of friends came together to help a friend that was suffering from depression after the death of her father. Although she was shutting everyone out, they literally came to her house en masse, cleaned up, brought food, and made it a party. It helped her tremendously. It’s risky, but is an idea on how to help a depressed friend.
If you are constantly on the road for work, try to maintain your connections at home. Take time to rest, use your vacation time, and if possible, try to take your loved ones on the road with you.
If you are in pain, seek help, and disregard the opinions of others who try to dissuade you from therapy. Fight that mute button that depression places on your throat. It’s a hard battle, but know you are loved and you are valued. You will be missed, no matter what the voices in your head say.
I say this to my fellow social justice warriors and people of color. Please practice self care. Please check on each other. Get a therapist if you feel you need one. Being in the struggle for justice can take a horrible toll.
RIP Anthony Bourdain….and all others who have lost their battle with depression.
See resources on suicide prevention at http://www.sprc.org/.
If you are in the South Florida area and need resources, message me.
He is someone I knew well — I practiced against him when he was a defense attorney, and before him when he became a judge. I never had an inkling of any racial animus in the way he referred to his clients or those before him.
But, there you have it — an “unnamed attorney” reported the comments two years later.
You read that right — two full years.
If you are a defense attorney, charged with protecting the interests of your clients (who, due to many systemic reasons are overwhelming black and brown), why do you sit on that information for two years?
How does one let a judge who is purportedly racist sit on the bench for two years — presiding over cases, and the fate of other black and brown people when you allegedly knowthe person is racist?
To give some context, judges in Miami-Dade County easily hear hundreds of cases a week. So for 104 weeks, someone who purportedly held racist views was able to affect the lives of many defendants.
It was said that the attorney feared “repercussions” — what about the repercussions to the affected persons whose life and liberty hung in the balance?
This, to me, says one of two things: either 1) the attorney did not view the conduct as that egregious; or 2) there is an ulterior motive.
This is yet another reason why diversity in the legal field is so critical. When there are more defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges of color, we will have less instances like these.
It’s not a cure, but it’s a start.
If you are not a person of color, and want to be an ally in the struggle for racial equality, here are a few tips.
Don’t condone racial slurs. If it’s said around you, give a full-throated repudiation those statements. Folks continue to speak that way if they think it’s ok and can get away with it.
Use your voice and privilege to help the struggle. Shine a light on these issues, and raise awareness in circles that people of color do not have access to.
Be aware of your own biases, and work on them. Take the Harvard implicit association test, which helps show where your biases lie. Once you know, work on it. Pause before you make decisions — are you making a decision based on assumptions, stereotypes or pure hard facts?
Engage with people who do not look like you. Let’s be clear — having a “black friend at work” doesn’t cut it. You need to go to events, places of worship, and do things on your downtime that are outside of your comfort zone. It has to be a choice for one to say s/he is fully engaged.
In this instance, I blame the judge for his comments, and the attorney for staying silent for so long.
Both are different sides of the same coin.
Sitting idly by as injustices occur is not the definition of being an ally.
So I admit it. I am a fanatic of the show Scandal. Over the course of seven seasons, the show filled a hole in my soul that I did not know I had.
As a woman of color, it has been difficult to see myself in those who are portrayed on television. I grew up in the era of the Cosby Show; Mrs. Claire Huxtable, as nice as she was, didn’t cut it. I wanted to see women who looked like me grappling with real life issues. I didn’t want to see “perfection” – I wanted to see reality.
Then came Scandal. Scandal provided a double whammy in a good way – it gave me two strong women of color. One in Shonda Rhimes, who wrote/produced the show; the other was the strong female lead Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington).