From Public Defender to Boundless Awareness - My Journey
People often ask me how I started Boundless Awareness. For me, it felt seamless to move from being a public defender to being an anti-oppression facilitator. The work goes hand in hand.
For seven years, starting in 2009, I worked at the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice in Brooklyn. I represented mainly young men, and some women, from Black and Brown communities and many undocumented Spanish-speaking people.
My first year, I was continually shocked to see only Black and Brown people in every courtroom waiting for their cases to be tried. My second year, I had become accustomed to this sight. . In year three, I once again became aware of this discrepancy and it was then that I started to see my role in the criminal justice system more clearly.
Even though I was a public defender – fighting on the side of my clients, witnessing the disproportionate injustices against them and sharing in their grief – I was also a complicit member of the system against them. I had to do the painful work of looking inward and acknowledging the ways in which I was complicit.
I asked myself questions like, “How does my ingrained racism show up in my work?” “What are the assumptions I bring when interviewing a new client?” “What questions am I not asking my clients because I assume I know the answers already or that I know better than they do?”
The more I questioned myself, the more honest I was able to be with myself. I spent my next four years at Legal Aid doing some deep personal work. As I saw my mistakes more clearly – assumptions I made, language I used that wasn’t inclusive – I was able to start talking about these mistakes openly because correcting them and growing and doing better for my clients became more important to me than my fear of being perceived as racist or complicit in this system.
Furthermore, talking with others helped me zoom out and address the systemic oppression we were working within: a racist, classist, sexist, transphobic, and homophobic system. And I saw how I contributed to systems of oppression when I used language that wasn’t inclusive or when I did not give my clients the benefit of the doubt.
Institutional change starts on the individual level and that’s why the private and deep internal work I did on myself and the changes I made with my clients were crucial. And it was this change and growth that I wanted to share on a larger scale.
I started Boundless Awareness in 2016 to talk about individual, societal and institutional change with a broader audience, using/leveraging the skills I developed and the experiences I had as a PD. Today, three years, and over 1,500 workshop participants, later – I can clearly see the impact that Boundless Awareness has made at our client organizations.