"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. She is the epitome of a powerful and dynamic woman and from the moment I met her, her passion for service has been contagious. With her affinity toward advocating for under-resourced communities, this Oakland 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.
“I want to be like Ryann when I grow up,” 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 be “forgotten” by society. She is a fierce social justice warrior who as a criminal defense attorney, is committed to neglected communities.
During her years in undergrad at the University of Southern California, she met her spouse, Pro Bowl NFL Defensive Lineman, Jurrell Casey. As they both blossomed individually in their professional careers, they continued their courtship throughout her years in Law School at Loyola University. Their marriage would not only yield a beautiful and prolific union, but together they hold a crucial role in the community with their non-profit organization-The Casey Fund, 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.
Ryann’s 100% success rate on her trials as a public defender demonstrates that her passion is not in vain. She sacrifices her heart and soul to serve as a liaison for those often forgotten or drowned in an unjust system designed to implicate minorities and the impoverished 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.
DOM: 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 poor), 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. But, regardless 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.
DOM: 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 minority 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.
DOM: 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.
DOM: What are you most excited about with transitioning into the new role of parenting and how has your son inspired you?
RC: I am excited about helping to mold my son into a wonderful human being. To be a part of all of his successes and challenges and seeing the growth it inspires in my husband and I. 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.
DOM: 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 and 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.
DOM: Why did you and your husband create the Casey Fund? Your opinion on mass incarceration and how The Casey Fund is raising awareness and combating these statistics?
RC: My husband and I started the Casey Fund because we both had an itch to go a step beyond our perspective fields. My husband has always felt it was his calling to provide resources and guidance to children that grew up in similar neighborhoods as him. At the same time, he has personal reasons for understanding the journey from being incarcerated and back into society is plagued with hurdles. For me, it was more so about the constant patterns I saw for people getting into criminal trouble. A lot of times, it dates back to their younger years in school which is a direct correlation to why the “pipeline to prison” is related to a lack of resources in schools. There is no motivation to succeed. And then dealing with real-life situations of people being released from prison and having high recidivism rates because, quite frankly they need the help. My husband and I realized that we have the power to not just identify these communities of need but put action behind it.
I am most astonished to find that a lot of people do not realize just how faulty our criminal justice system is. From the police accountability, especially over -policing in certain neighborhoods, the need for money bail reform, to disproportionate sentencing just to name a few and how it impacts black and brown people probability of being incarcerated. So awareness is big. People need to open their eyes to all the faults of locking people up and throwing away the key. Until people open their eyes, this epidemic will only get worse.
DOM: Your top five favorite things to do in Nashville (Or favorite Restaurants).
Go to the movies.
Try new restaurants (Treehouse is a current favorite)
Game nights with friends.
Escape game adventures with a group of friends
Follow Ryann and her parenting journey and stay abreast on how she is changing the criminal justice system for the better via social @Ryanngra