"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."-Martin Luther King Jr.
Ryann Casey is a strong, intelligent, determined, driven and fierce leader within our community. From the moment I met her, her passion for service has been contagious. With her affinity toward advocating for under-resourced communities, this Oakland, CA native has made it her business to change the criminal justice system, for the better. Ryann has dedicated relentless time and resources through her personal and professional career toward providing a voice to the voiceless.
She is the epitome of a powerful and dynamic woman and from the moment I met her, her passion for service has been contagious. When I grow up, “I want to be like Ryann” is what I would say when people asked me about my friend. This young woman inspired me to use my God-given gifts to serve others who may have been “forgotten” by society. She is a fierce social justice warrior who, as a criminal defense attorney, is committed to servicing neglected communities.
She met her spouse, Jurrell Casey during her years in undergrad at the University of Southern California. They continued their courtship throughout her time in Law School at Loyola University. Their marriage would not only yield a beautiful and prolific union but play a crucial role in the community by establishing The Casey Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money for re-entry programs, inner-city youth programs, mentoring, halfway houses and other projects that serve individuals and families impacted by incarceration.
With a 100% success (trial) rate, she demonstrates that her career passion is not in vain. This is not a surprise as she regularly sacrifices her heart and soul to serve as a liaison for those often forgotten or drowned in an unjust system designed to implicate minorities at unprecedented rates.
During my time in Nashville, TN, I was able to sit down with Ryann in front of the courthouse and discover more from this dynamic and amazing leader.
DS: What is it like being a public defender in today’s justice system? How does it feel to know you are motivating the masses to tap into their potential and take action towards achieving their dreams?
RC: Being a public defender leads to an interesting combination of mental exhaustion and fulfilling purpose. A harder perspective for a lot of people to consider is all the hurdles you must climb in defending someone of a crime. You must consider if police actions were correct, figuring out bond issues (so people who are poor aren’t just sitting in jail as a punitive manner because they are without resources), legal research and arguments with district attorneys and judges to start it off. It is exhausting because we are always the underdog in all of those topics. Nevertheless, I push through in order to give my client the best defense. While there are a lot of in-between feelings, on the other side of the spectrum, there is a sense of purpose. It is an honor to give people a voice in a time when they are often required to be silenced. To give meaning to someone’s story not necessarily just the situation they are being accused.
DS: What was your “ah ha moment”? This moment is defined as a time when you realized your purpose or a moment where you realized that you could make a living pursuing your passion.
RC: I realized my purpose when I was in my second year of law school and I interned at the LA county public defender’s office. I was specifically assigned to a juvenile division for girls that had become a victim as a result of the “street” lifestyle. First of all, that was the first time, I realized that I am really good at defending people accused of crimes. My research, dedication, and communication with the client made me strong! But, furthermore, I met a girl who gave me a perspective that I had not considered. She explained that this was her first time seeing a young black attorney. Specifically a female attorney.
She explained how much that meant to her. At that time, I felt like it was my purpose and I was obligated to demonstrate (through my career) to other young black kids that we can and will succeed in our respective professional fields.
DS: Your advice to young people (especially women) aspiring to achieve similar career and personal goals as yourself? What words of wisdom would you provide to individuals that want to break barriers and achieve greatness?
RC: To continue to push forward, write your goals down and make a plan to get there. Be open to amending your plan as life circumstances happen. But, most of all— do not be afraid to ask for help. No need to recreate the wheel when people before you have been successful.
DS: How has your son inspired you?
RC: My son has been one of the greatest blessings for my family. He has motivated me to be a better person on all levels and to take care of myself so that I can be the best version of me in order to best care for him.
DS: Your definition of what it means to leave a legacy?
RC: It is imperative for everyone to make a personal mark in someone’s world, whether on a macro or micro level. But, a legacy is taking it a step further and ensuring your mark has a lasting and trickle down effect in future generations. Ensuring that future generations feel the impact of your good work and are positively affected and/or motivated by your actions is more than enough fuel to keep striving to leave your mark.
Follow Ryann to stay abreast on how she is changing the criminal justice system for the better via social @RYANNGRA
Edited by Joy Davis