Tell us about yourself.
I am biracial— my father is black and my mother is white. I grew up in a small suburban town in central Pennsylvania that was, and still is, predominantly white. I came to Pittsburgh for undergrad and never left! My husband and I met in our first year of law school at the University of Pittsburgh and have lived on the Northside for the past nine years.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black history is American history. Unfortunately, black history, black narratives, and black stories have traditionally been overlooked and/or discounted. Black History Month is important because it’s a time dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating the contributions, sacrifices, and achievements African Americans have made, and continue to make, in our society. Black History Month also reminds us that although we have progressed, we still have a long way to go.
Who is your Black hero or role model and why?
This is a tough one! In high school, I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and was inspired by his advocacy for self-reliance, self-determination, and black pride. Today, while I look up to all the greats, past and present (e.g., Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah, the Obamas, etc.), I’d have to say my role model is my father. He was born in Coraopolis during the late 1940s and came of age during the Civil Rights movement. Despite growing up with very limited means, he leveraged his athletic ability to earn both undergraduate and master’s degrees at Pitt. Growing up, my father was very strict with my two siblings and me, but it was in an effort to teach us the value of hard work and education, as well as the importance of standing up for ourselves and our beliefs so that we would have a better life than he had. At the end of the day, if I’m able to reflect some measure of my father’s confidence, resilience, and drive (along with my mother’s strength, wisdom, and selflessness), while forging my own path, I’ll be doing alright.
What is your favorite Black character from a movie, TV show, or book and why?
All of the female leads in HBO’s Insecure, because I can see bits and pieces of myself in every character. For me, author Yomi Adegoke described Insecure best: “[I]t [is] massively important, not just for African Americans but just generally for black women all over the world, to see ourselves portrayed so normally… Insecure shows the humdrum experiences that all black millennial women go through, but also puts them at the centre of the story. It just hits this sweet spot that quite a lot of predominantly white shows allow their characters to exist in, which is to be realistic, complex and live outside of the stereotypes.”
What movie, TV show, or book would you recommend to someone who wants to be a better ally to African-Americans?
Ava DuVernay’s 13th.
What advice would you give to a young African American lawyer just starting out in their career?
Keep your head up. The practice of law is difficult – especially for attorneys of color. Implicit bias in the legal profession is real and you will run into individuals who are less than kind. Try not to doubt yourself [too much] and work to build a support system (mentors, affinity groups, co-workers, classmates, etc.). This will make you stronger and help you weather the storm.
What advice would you give legal employers about what they can do to make workplaces welcoming and supportive for Black lawyers?
Focus not just on hiring, but on retention. Make sure that your black attorneys – and all diverse attorneys – are receiving (1) good training, feedback, and mentorship, (2) growth opportunities, and (3) access to key decision-makers within your firm or organization.