Jerika Richardson, 39, grew up in Somerset, New Jersey. She reminisced on her early years in her community, the community that helped her appreciate the value of being interested and engaged in making sure others felt heard.
“My family was very involved in the community of central New Jersey and I think that one of the things that they instilled in me is the importance of engaging in your community and the importance of voting, so one of the things that I remember is being there as a young person, being able to go to the poll with my parents,” said Richardson.
Richardson had moved to Atlanta to attend Spelman College, a historically Black college. She described her time at Spelman as among the most transformative events of her life. It was truly a location where she could be surrounded by amazing academics who genuinely cared about the empowerment of Black women.
“It gives me the opportunity to not only immerse myself in American history and culture but also educate me on the history of the Black diaspora, both in this country and elsewhere in the world and unfortunately not the history that many in this country get. We really don’t get a lot of information on African American history in our schools and contributions of members of the Black diaspora worldwide,” Richardson expressed.
She studied law at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. She worked as a journalist for ABC News in New York after law school, covering law and justice, politics, as well as breaking and financial news. Her current focus is on policy advocacy and organizing on critical justice issues such as criminal justice reform, police reform, civil engagement and voting rights, countering extremism, and lobbying against hate crime.
Richardson attributed her understanding of what inspired her to choose her career to an experience she had as an 18-year-old in Atlanta, Georgia, when she registered with her classmates to vote in the presidential election of 2000. When she got to the polling station, she noticed that her name, along with the names of most of her friends and other Black students at Atlanta University Center, did not appear.
“That was the first experience of being disenfranchised from the first election that I can actually be eligible for; it really had a profound impact on me, and really solidified the importance of getting involved in the community and being involved in government and to really understand how important it is for us to really tell these stories,” she said.
She recalls working as the Justice Department’s spokesperson in the New York office of the Southern District of New York when she first saw the video of officer Daniel Pantaleo and Eric Garner that summer. Richardson stated that after seeing the video and seeing the reactions of the people in New York City, she felt as if they had been awakened by the injustice going on in the United States. She saw the significance of sitting at the table not just when laws were being implemented, but also when policies were being developed at the time. Because she wanted to be closer to policy making decisions, she took a job at the New York City office as a result of her experience.
She voiced the same anger and hurt after seeing what happened to George Floyd last summer, similar to the Eric Garner video. Richardson, who was the deputy director of the civilian complaint review board at the time, said she spent many nights and days talking to members of the community about how to report police wrongdoing, as well as informing them about changes in the law and allowing individuals to share film from incidents that occurred during protests.
“I do respect and appreciate those bystanders that had the courage to record, had the courage to speak up and speak out, because if it hadn’t been for them then the world may never have known what happened that day and what Black and Brown communities go through on a day-to-day basis,” said Richardson.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Richardson’s work, she said, was seeing what happens when communities band together to seek and obtain justice. “People inspire me, my community inspires me, and I am continuously inspired by people I know who battle with prejudice and discrimination and still push forward,” she said.
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