10 Things I’m Thankful for as a Youth Defender
by Kristina “KK” Kersey, Sr. Youth Defense Counsel
Several Thanksgivings ago, perhaps fueled by too many Hallmark movies, I suggested we go around the table and say what we were thankful for. I was feeling misty-eyed, Norman Rockwell, The Best Man Thanksgiving vibes until we got to my four-year-old nephew, who asked if I was thankful my dog had died. Now first, my dog had not, in fact, died and second, I’m sorry, what?!
Regardless of Thanksgiving’s violent and complicated history and your family’s earnest attempts at continuing that trend, I will still use this opportunity to talk about what I am grateful for as a youth defender.
- My new dog is very much alive. The silver lining of lockdown was that many of us added four-legged friends to our families. Mine was a chihuahua/min pin mix with a broken back. He now rules the dog park and jumps onto my chair to appear on Zoom. In the immortal words of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from Jersey Shore, the comeback is always greater than the setback, and having Biggie as co-counsel is pretty sweet.
- Defenders are essential and creative. No one banged pots for us in appreciation, but defenders showed up during this pandemic, pushing for youth to be released from detention centers, residential placements, and prisons. We demanded that liberation keep happening, with many of us risking our own mental and physical health to ensure that it did.
- That one supervisor that says, “go for it.” File that motion, retain that expert, try that theory, start that practice. State budgets and public defense budgets aren’t always flush, but it’s great when you have a leader who leads.
- A truly outstanding trial partner. Mine went into labor and we rode by ambulance to the hospital when her water broke right before the judge came out to call the list. Also, the one who came to pick me up from the hospital when I realized I had left my keys and wallet in the courtroom.
- That place you grab lunch or coffee that knows your order. Over the years, our local haunts in Newark changed, but it’s comforting that with the chaos of a court day, someone remembers that you like your sandwich roll scooped or saves you the last oatmeal chocolate chip cookie or warns you if the tuna isn’t fresh.
- Our clients. The one who gives you attitude but then grows to respect you. The one who teaches you new slang, a new perspective, or a lesson. The one who lets you know, although they don’t owe you access to their personal life, at some future date, how well they are doing. It is humbling to be a youth defender.
- That one outlandish attorney for whom you have a nickname. My one regret is that I left the front lines before becoming older and more eccentric. There was one attorney who wore a bolo tie, which would have been cool if he were in the Southwest or Bruce Springsteen in the mid-80s, but alas, he was neither. Honorable mention to counsel who appeared in a velour tracksuit.
- When something really ridiculous happens in court and you just can’t hold it in. My favorite SNL skits are the ones where the cast breaks character and laughs. Court is important, serious, life-changing stuff; however, once in a while, humanity creeps in. Like when I inadvertently opened Spotify while putting my hand in my pocket. It took a few seconds longer than I’d like to admit to realize I was the one blasting Jody Watley. I’m looking for a new love, baby, yeah yeah yeah.
- When you feel seen. I joked that 2020 was a good year for youth defenders, from all the Netflix docs to Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and everyone on my social media feed realizing how badass youth defenders are.
- When you realize that it takes a village . . . and you found your village. I joined the all-star, badass, all-woman powerhouse that is NJDC. Like the Wizardesses of Oz. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain, we are the great and powerful soon-to-be Gault Center.
Please @njdc for what you are thankful for as a youth defender.