The Public Defenders Fueled By Fenty And Small Wins

Courtney Dixon

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice, from Maybrook, New York

“My first grade teacher told me I should be a lawyer, and I think it just stuck with me. I was that straight-A student who never got in trouble, but police would still harass me if I was outside with my friends. I felt very targeted, and I wanted to do something to fight against that. A lot of us go in with the mentality that we don’t care whether the client is innocent. In reality, everybody else in that room—the judge, the prosecutor, the court staff—has already assumed that your client is guilty. So if we’re not there, there doesn’t need to be any trial or exchange of discovery. Everyone deserves a lawyer, and has rights—my goal is to protect those rights.

The judges know us because they’re in front of us every day, but you don’t necessarily want a jury to know that your client is represented by a public defender, because that comes with assumptions. And most of my clients are black and brown people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, so they may not be able to afford the suit to wear to court. At least if I’m dressed in a certain way, or have my face and hair done in a certain way, maybe that helps how those 12 people who don’t know my client will perceive him or her. When I’m going on trial I usually use an Avon Glimmerstick eyeliner and Better Than Sex mascara, but on a daily basis I like to have a clean face with no foundation. I always have this Sephora Ultra Shine Lip Gel in Red Velvet in my bag, and as a black woman, my lip color is much closer to my skin color—a Covergirl plum lip liner gives me a little definition.

I always thought my hair needed to be straight, but it got to a point where the relaxer was damaging my hair so badly that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was very nervous about going natural—I thought that people would judge me, or I wouldn’t be able to be taken seriously as a lawyer. Black people are conditioned to think, ‘Can I wear my hair like this?’ When I’ve already gone through that thought, having my hair commented on is really, really hard. As I was letting the relaxer grow out, I found a crochet braider—her name is Twana. I saw her doing hair, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this and it’ll help my hair grow.’ That was really where I started. Once I was ready to trim out all the relaxer, I saw Tanji at Salon D&C, and she was wonderful. Now, I might have goddess twists going around my head, or a twist-out, like it is now. I’ve done braids, whether it’s cornrows into a ponytail or cornrows into a Mohawk with added crochet hair. I use Argan Oil of Morocco Deep Penetrating Oil with and a mixture of coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, Jamaican black castor oil, and tea tree oil to keep my hair moisturized.

I spend at least a weekend a month upstate at my mom’s, and I see all my cousins, and have a big dinner. It’s nice to catch up with family. Right before my 30th birthday party, I was at my brother’s house, sitting in the bathroom with my sister and my best friend, and said, ‘I don’t know how to do my face!’ They sat, and made up my face in a very me-way—they know I don’t like a whole lot of stuff. It made me feel beautiful on a very big milestone birthday. It was really nice and intimate—not a big thing, but something I really enjoyed.”

—as told to ITG

The Bronx Defenders photographed by Tom Newton in The Bronx, New York on September 9, 2019

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