What do you do? I use this thing called a law degree to empower my community and to help them understand what is happening to them. I co-founded Baltimore Action Legal Team after the uprisings in Baltimore because I knew I had to do my part to help people be free. We started by bailing out and assisting some of the hundreds who were arrested. We turned that moment into a community lawyering collective. Doing this work has forced me to relearn and rethink what I can do with my degree. It also makes me want to support young Black lawyers in connecting their knowledge to where and for whom it is most needed in our communities. I know bailing people out is just a small piece and it won’t get us to the finish line but we can’t just let people sit in jail because they can’t afford their freedom. As we bailout our people, our collective of lawyers is also supporting grassroots organizations that are working to change the rules and system that are designed to hurt us.
What is your why? Why do you do what you do? Dealing with this system is not easy. A lot of the people that I love have been impacted by the criminal injustice system. Even after I became an attorney, it was still difficult and I couldn’t always help my loved ones. Overall, Black people in this country do not have a constructive relationship with the legal system. I want to show our community that despite these systems conflating to oppress you, there are people that look like you and resources out there that can support you. I tell people I work with that I am willing to let you lead me in supporting you and that my work is about expanding beyond the criminal injustice system so we can be free.
What moment or experience motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? Birth! I grew up in Harlem, in the 80s. Despite Harlem being known for drugs and violence, that wasn’t the Harlem I knew and loved. Of course, I saw bad things but we didn’t know we were going through all of this bad stuff at the time. I didn’t know what structural racism was or that ghettos and pockets of poverty were the result of intentional behavior. Right before law school, I started to understand that some of the things I was lived through were the result of racist policies, decades in the making. I started to understand the concepts of institutional and structural racism. The gentrification of my neighborhood opened my eyes. For example, my grandmother just couldn’t understand the concept of Starbucks when they first came to Harlem. My grandmother understands working hard, having a good time and taking care of your family. She kept asking me whether Starbucks was a library and couldn’t get that people would just be there for hours drinking coffee and talking. One day she stood outside Starbucks in her walker and stared at the people from the window like, “what are you all doing in there?” And the manager closed the blinds on her. When she told me what happened, I had so many emotions. That minor interaction is how I came to understand privilege, cultures clashing and crushing displacement. All of this led me to do this work.
When were you most proud of yourself or your work? After I graduated law school and went to visit my grandma, everyone in her building was congratulating me. I asked my grandma how everyone knew I graduated and she said, because “I told them if I whip your ass, I can get out of jail before you leave the hospital.” She was hilarious, but what she was really saying was that “my granddaughter has tools to help me.” Anytime someone can say that my interaction with Iman helped me out, I’m good. That’s what I try to do every day.
The ask: As a natural giver, it’s always very hard for me to ask for help or identify ways for people to help me. If you have skills that will help me do this job better, hit me up. If you would like to learn how to help your community, hit me up. And if you have the means, please donate to our Mama’s Bailout campaign by clicking on the donate button.