Wonder Woman: Christyn Richardson Interview
by Evan Jackson
At first when I met Christyn Richardson I thought her humbleness and gracefulness defined her, but when I spoke with her in depth and got to know her story what lies beneath her graciousness is a quiet storm. Her advocacy is well known with being the incoming Western Regional Chair of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA). As a leader within NBLSA she organizes demonstrations and encourages justice. Even when she wins Miss Black California USA she explains to me it is yet another platform to service others. Only using her accolades and accomplishments for good while fighting injustice, sounds like an origin story for a superhero, right? Christyn is grateful for what she has done and admits she still has room to grow. What actually defines Christyn Richardson is her character, her tireless effort to serve others, and her desire to create change. So without the cape and theatrics Christyn will do just that and even more.
What made you want to go to law school?
I grew up in Richmond, California, which is in the East Bay. I was Pre-Med at the University of California, Riverside until I realized that wasn’t for me. I had to really evaluate and figure out what I was good at and what would allow me to make a difference in the way I thought would be most meaningful to me. I’m good at communicating, I’m a voracious reader and I enjoy writing. I was also passionate about helping to reform a system that I feel is flawed and stacks the decks against us. I saw law school as an opportunity to develop my skills as an advocate and an attorney to make a difference in the way I saw as necessary.
What made you want to become an advocate for justice?
I graduated from UCR with a degree in Media & Cultural Studies. During my program I was exposed, through my professor and mentor, to the realities of the system in which we live and try to operate in. She totally changed my outlook on life. I always knew I wanted to help people and I’ve always had. I wanted to advance causes that I believed in. Once I graduated, I was studying for the LSAT and I began working as a mental health care worker with young men from the ages of 12 to 19. I had to be an authority figure they had to respect, but I was also someone they could talk to and trust. Those experiences helped me grow to be more empathetic and to be less judgmental. That was an alternative sentencing program and for me to see that rehabilitation is emphasized in the system and see it working inspired me to be a part of that process. During my time as a mental health care worker, I applied to several schools and ended up choosing the University of California, Irvine Law School. I deferred for a year and I went back to the bay area and worked closely with Civil Rights Attorney John Burris in my hometown of Richmond. I got some exposure to the legal world and in the summer of 2013 I headed to Irvine where I’m currently at right now.
Last summer I worked for California Public Utilities commission in San Francisco as a law clerk for the administrative law justice position. I learned a lot about different types of law such as energy, telecomm, and water, but what I was missing was interaction with the people and clients. Through my advocacy and knowledge of the system I can educate people and create change.
You are active in your community and your professional life as an advocate. What organizations are you a part of?
I am the incoming Western Regional Chair of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA). This past year I’ve been the southern California sub-regional director for the Western Region of NBLSA. I’m also co-chair of the Black Law School Association at UC Irvine. I have also participated in the Miss Black California USA organization. I do pro bono work, I’ve worked with public defender’s office in Orange County as well as the Southern California ACLU in Orange County on their Gang Injunction Project.
As one of the leaders of NBLSA what demonstrations have you led?
I just planned and participated in a die-in at Santa Monica Pier on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I organized this die-in with other BLSA leaders from Southern California law. It was a really wonderful demonstration with a showing of about thirty people and it was powerful. NBLSA chapters all over the country participated in the die-in. It was a stand in solidarity to protest police brutality and to commemorate the lives of people who have died from police brutality - unarmed black people, men and women. That’s something as black law students that we feel very passionate about because we’re uniquely positioned to be able to advocate against that and for the rights of our community.
Do you think young black female law students and legal professionals are represented well?
I feel as a whole, men and woman, Black people are underrepresented in law school and as law professionals. Part of my position as Western Regional Chair of NBLSA is to try to help increase our outreach to pre-law students to give them the resources and show them that law school is attainable. Encouraging pre-law students to consider law school is a personal goal of mine Aside from the attorney I worked for, I didn’t have anyone in my life that did law so I know how difficult the process is when you’re trying to navigate the law school application process. It’s very daunting, but it’s doable and I want to be able to help people. As black people, our perspective is absolutely needed in the field of law. It’s a hugely important field, and we need to have more power in this area.
How did you get your start in pageantry?
I started out in my first pageant when I was 13 in the 2002, Miss Teen of The Nation pageant. Looking back, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. Pageantry is a sport, people have coaches and the preparation is key. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The next year I went back with a coach and still didn’t know as much as I needed to. I was also young, so I didn’t win. A few years later I returned to the pageant. I grew into myself as a woman, I developed myself and I enjoyed my pageant experience more. I came with the confidence of knowing who I was and knowing who I wanted to be. That year (2007) I won the title of Miss Teen of The Nation 2007. That was one of my proudest moments, my family was there and it was very special for me. I enjoy pageantry because it forces me to be well rounded. I worked hard on my public speaking, being an effective communicator, and being graceful. And I worked hard to be physically fit. I became a personal trainer,I got my certification, and I was training myself. After I gave up my title the following year I began competing in the Miss America system at Miss California locals. I did that for three years. I competed for Miss California from 2009 to 2011. In 2010 I made top 12 in Miss California. That was a huge achievement for me. I wanted to use my pageantry as a platform and opportunity to help people. I wanted to go into communities where I grew up and show people like me that we can do it.
Tell us more about you winning the Miss Black California USA?
I competed in a preliminary pageant of the Miss Black California USA pageant in July of last year and won the title of Miss Black Carson. I won a scholarship and won the ability to compete at the state pageant. At Miss Black California USA in November I won three out of the four preliminary awards in my group. I won the onstage question competition, the gown competition, and the talent competition. I sang the jazz song Cry Me A River by Ella Fitzgerald. What attracted me to Miss Black California USA pageant is I felt like I could be myself. I felt like I could be celebrated for the things that make me proud of who I am as a black woman. I didn’t feel like I had to dilute myself or water it down to make people feel comfortable like I have at other pageants. I felt like they were looking for me or someone like me. I can advocate for what I wanted to advocate for and the title would give me the opportunity to do the things I think are important. I won the pageant and a $5,000 scholarship. My family was there to cheer me on and they’ve always been so supportive. I will be working hard to bring the title home to California when I go to D.C. and compete in Miss Black USA in August. If I end up winning Miss Black USA there is a trip to Africa and a bigger opportunity to advocate for issues within the black community. For me, I see the title as an opportunity to represent black women and to serve as a positive role model. I want to show young black women we are educated and smart and we don’t have to play into the stereotypical roles of black women produced by the media. We can be valued and celebrated for our minds, for our grace and our ability to connect with people. My personal platform is increasing access to justice in the black community. When I won the pageant, it was right around the time the Michael Brown verdict came out. What I wanted to do was use my title as an opportunity to educate the community about how the system works and why we are getting these outcomes. I want to encourage people to lobby against these laws that show so much deference to police officers and I want to educate people on what are their rights.
With your experience winning the Miss Black California USA title and pageantry, what did it teach you about self-beauty?
There have been times where I tried to be what others wanted me to be because I wanted to win. What I’ve learned is that I don’t have to be someone else or water myself down in order to shine and be successful. I have realized that I’ve been most successful in pageants the times when I’ve been most true to myself. And now, I have grown to the point in my spiritual life and my personal life where I feel beautiful from the inside out. When you feel beautiful you look more beautiful, and everyone sees confidence and recognizes it as a positive trait. Ultimately, I aspire to be a woman of substance because I think that outweighs outward beauty any day.
What is the boldest thing you’ve ever done?
I would have to say making music. Art is so personal and for me. The songs I make haven’t been heard and I haven’t released all of them. When I was writing it came from a real place, and it’s tough to be that vulnerable. So for me, even making the couple songs that people have heard was bold. Making music for me is really just about expression and making art, I have no desire to be famous.
What are your future aspirations?
I see myself as a being a judge in five or six years. I want to get a lot of litigation experience between now and then. I’m open to different opportunities in law. The way I live my life is I believe everywhere I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be so I just like to let God lead me. The world is full of possibilities so we’ll see.
Where can people reach you?People can reach me on my twitter @LiveLoveBlair and my email firstname.lastname@example.org.