Super thrilled that my latest piece appears on the blog Very Smart Brothas. They are doing a series “America in Black”. My piece explores the stereotypes and misconceptions held by all races of what it means to be a black woman.
“Every black person’s struggle takes a different path but has the same theme. In my legal career, the struggle is respect, being heard, and having the ability to make meaningful change to uplift communities of color. The bias looks the same—while some people of color may be hesitant to embrace you because you’re perceived as “bougie,” certain white folks marvel that you can afford a luxury purse or a high-end foreign car without being tied to illegal activity. I was once at an event when a judge joked to me whether or not my Michael Kors purse was a result of dropping cases as a prosecutor.”
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.
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.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina drew headlines this week with her sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. All week long, we were riveted by the powerful victim impact statements made by young gymnasts as to the abuse they suffered at the hands of someone they trusted. Testimony was given by Olympians, faces we recognized (such as Simone Biles and Aly Raisman) and some we didn’t. Irregardless, the pain was the same.
Each woman had the same story. They were young (starting at early teens), and they received a sexual violation rather than treatment by this doctor.
As she sentenced the disgraced doctor to 175 years in prison, Judge Aquilina made note of several aspects — the desire of the defendant to silence the women by asking the judge to stop the stream of victim impact statements; the large number of women who had come forward with similar tales of abuse; and Nassar’s unrepentant attitude. She read portions of a letter he sent, in which he laid blame upon the victims, the investigators, the prosecutor and the media.
Judge Aquilina made the statements to the effect of “I wouldn’t send my dog to you for treatment” and “I’ve just signed your death warrant”.
There are some that claim her comments went over the line, and that she has taken this “too personally”.
One male judge stated that Nassar’s sentencing was “the most violative” sentencing proceeding he can recall.
Let’s look at the role of the judge. At sentencing, a judge may consider a wide variety of factors, such as how dangerous the defendant is, likelihood to re-offend, the facts of the underlying case, impact on the community, and remorse of the defendant.
The facts that came to light include that this doctor abused over 150 women during a time span of close to 30 years, with similar facts. It is clear that he is likely to re-offend. The impact of this case is obvious — it has rocked the Olympic world, and shocked the public. The president of the University of Michigan, where the doctor was employed, resigned in the wake of this case.
As for remorse — this defendant had none. He exhibited signs of a classic abuser and manipulator, attempting to explain his actions away. See excerpts from the letter he sent Judge Aquilina below.
The judge stating that “she signed his death warrant” is a fact. He will not live to see the end of his sentence. Stating that “she would not send her dogs to him” for treatment? This, to me, was a direct response to his assertion that his actions were not molestation, but were some form of treatment.
In reading the derogatory comments from some men regarding this case, it appears that toxic tribalism and toxic masculinity continues to thrive. These abuses happen, and continue to happen, as a result of some men believing that they are entitled to take liberties with whatever woman they choose. It is the very essence of the #MeToo movement — from Anita Hill, to the women allegedly victimized by Bill Cosby, to the female employees at the Ford Motor Company. The actual facts and abuse may change, but the pathology is the same. It is rooted in power, entitlement, and a misguided belief that women do not deserve the same respect as men.
We must continue to vote for diversity in the judiciary. In doing so, you have judges who are keenly aware of the impact of their decisions, as well as the impact of a defendant on a particular underrepresented community. This is not to say a male judge would not have reacted in the same way in this case; but this judge was able to acutely see the pain that these young women were showing in their statements.
It is time to put aside the theory of “us men have to stick together“, and shift to a “respect all equally” motto. In doing so, victims who were violated in the worst way possible will be supported.