These powerful words are excerpted from a 1963 letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned from the confinement of a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. 58 years later, his words are as relevant as ever. While we have made significant progress in the crusade for social justice, there are still advances to be made before we reach a place of true racial equity.
As a product of both a low-income and a single-parent family, I am personally and keenly aware of the difficult choices that today’s youth face. I am intimately familiar with living in a home environment that was not ideally full of love nor conducive for learning and growth. In 1993, after completing the 11th grade with a 3.97 GPA, I dropped out of school. I was quickly introduced to criminal behavior and found myself well on my way to a life of crime. In five short years, I was arrested, evicted, and lost everything I had including hope and self-esteem. I realized that my poor decisions were altering my life, the reputation of my family and the course toward my career dreams. Before this, I saw a clear path – graduate from college, graduate from law school, become a prominent attorney, and then sit on the bench as an officer of the court.
The defining moment of my life came on a predestined day in 1999 when I stood before an Oakland County Circuit Court judge who spoke life into me and acknowledged that she saw greatness inside of me, that I didn’t even know still existed. The extra push and words of encouragement from Judge Langford-Morris, not only helped me take hold of the reigns of my life, but also enlightened me on how influential African American professionals in the criminal justice system can be. This was my “Revelation Day”. Along with family and friends as my support, I used this moment to transform my life and went on to obtain my GED, earn a full collegiate scholarship and successfully matriculate through law school.
I currently hold both a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Administration from Wayne State University. I earned a Juris Doctor with a Concentration in Criminal Law from Michigan State University College of Law. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy & Administration and have been a third-grade teacher and an adjunct professor at Baker College. Additionally, I was elected three times to the Michigan House of Representatives.
Despite my past with making poor choices and poor decisions which ultimately led to criminal convictions, I still was able to do something positive with my life, even though I thought life was truly over for me. With all these accomplishments there is something that weighs heavily on my heart – the treatment of Black people especially in the criminal justice system. Black people are still being treated like second class citizens. From a law breaker to a lawmaker, I understand the many challenges that black people face today with systemic and institutional racism. However, the system is not set up for the advancement of black folks!
As we celebrate Black History Month, we all must continue to utilize our platforms to have meaningful discussions with stakeholders around the plight of black folks that will ultimately effectuate change. We’ve been dealing with a lot since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the late Congressman John Lewis, and many others; but what has really changed since then and what needs to be changed in our world with our policies?
Join me on this journey as we work to dismantle the criminal justice system and as I share my journey of trials and triumphs with the criminal justice system and how I am helping others who have had similar shortcomings.