Today we’d like to introduce you to Alisa Blair.
Alisa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was raised in underserved communities where most of my peers and myself lived in poverty. I took note early on that education and criminal justice were the systems that I felt most impacted my community and Black people as a whole. I committed myself to making a place within those systems so that I could help my people. Up until my 3rd year in law school, I was still substitute teaching and trying to decide whether I would go into education or criminal defense. I ultimately became a public defender. Now that I have been doing the work for 17 years, I find myself naturally shifting into wanting to change policy and legislation. I am once again at a crossroads.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road has certainly been bumpy. Money trouble placed a role throughout my journey. At one point in law school, my younger sister lived with me after being unable to get along with our mother. At yet another point, my mother and youngest sister experienced homelessness and had to live with me and my roommate. I did not pass the bar on my first attempt and feared I had made the wrong choice. Once I did pass the bar and get hired, I struggled with the gravity of the task. Society has become far too comfortable seeing Black folks in chains.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
The LA County Public Defender’s office is the oldest and largest public defense firm in the country. The LA County District Attorney’s office is also the largest. LA County contributes to human caging on a tremendous scale. Ending mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our time. As a deputy public defender, I represent the accused and defend the constitution. I am a check in a racist system. I am most proud of advocating fiercely for my clients and being able to restore their sense of dignity and make clear their humanity.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I think I have several markers. Growing up poor there is the obvious definition which includes financial stability. Being able to provide for my family is very important to me. As an attorney, I define success by my reputation in an out of the courtroom for being smart, compassionate, and strong. I am extremely proud when a client says he has heard of me in the jails.