#SWAAYthenarrative

I Started Off In The Inner City; Now I'm Using My Success Story To Uplift Inner-City Youth​

5 Min Read
People

When I immigrated to the United States at 7 years old, at first, this country was so completely foreign to me that I didn't yet understand that there was any such thing as living in a "poor area.

Moreover, I couldn't even begin to conceive that I was most definitely living in one. The inner city was the only United States I knew.

I couldn't understand that there were different types of schools, charter schools, private schools, magnet schools... There was just school (public, of course). Going there every day simply became routine: Get up, go to school, go home. The option of extracurricular activities was scary to me at the time, and the area was already considered unsafe so I was never exposed to anything outside of that routine until I was about 12 years old.

I know firsthand that inner-city and underprivileged kids don't always have the same opportunities and resources to thrive in society as others.

Living in the inner city affects all families and people of all ages, but nobody is affected more than children. Growing up as a child in the inner city is challenging, and unfortunately, there is a natural disadvantage that comes with it. One that I understand firsthand.

Inner-city youths usually don't have adequate facilities to promote a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. Parks aren't always clean or safe, there isn't a variety of sports and other extracurricular activities outside of school. And the education isn't always on the same level as other more well-off areas. For most kids, a solid education is perhaps their only chance at getting off the streets, so they can create a better situation for their own kids. But if these inner-city kids aren't given the same educational opportunities as others, then they never will get out. The cycle continues.

Personally, I'm not sure who I would have been if it weren't for the opportunities my parents strove to create for me. If they hadn't believed in me enough to put me in modeling classes, I probably would never have been able to find my passion for performing in front of people, which then led me to join theater, which then segued into me competing in my first pageant. And, if you know me, you know that pageants have changed my life in a big way.

Because the environment I was living in, outside of my home, wasn't an inspirational or motivational one, I felt such a disconnect between the successful lives people were living on TV and the life that I was living or the future that I thought was attainable for me.

If we do not empower our inner-city youth it does our entire society a great disservice. We lose out on thousands, millions of potential doctors, innovators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and creatives. Think about where the world would be if people like Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr, or Marie Curie hadn't grown up in supportive families or environments? Would they have believed in themselves and achieved all they have? Maybe note, and the way we live would certainly be very different.

I give all the credit for my success in life to my parents. I was lucky enough to have a mom and dad who supported me beyond all belief and had the ability to go so far out of their way in order to give me the opportunities that got me where I am today.

When I was 12, my dad would drive me two hours to a modeling school, sit in his car in the brutal Boston winter for four hours until class was out, and then drive us back home another two hours. Or when I changed schools and could join the band and learn how to play an instrument, my mom saved up all of our extra money on the side so that I could afford to be a part of the band and learn how to play the tuba and the trombone.

My parents always reminded me that they believed in my abilities, my passions, and my potential to really make a difference in the world. And knowing this became a driving force for me. If my parents thought I could do it, it gave me all the reassurance I needed.

To this day my parents constantly emphasize that I have the capabilities to achieve anything so long as I am kind to others, work hard, and have faith.

My parents have truly helped me become who I am today. Now that I am reaping the rewards of the seeds my parents sowed in me, I want to be a guiding light for the kids that may not have parents like mine. I may not be able to solve all the problems out in the world, but what I can do is give inner-city kids the hope and confidence they need to achieve a successful life despite their circumstances.

Growing up with the notion that we either are enough or not enough, just one or the other, is simply society's way of trying to cap our abilities. The place you are born, the economic class you are born into, and the parents you are born with should not decide where you end up in life. We are all more than enough, period.

That's how the name of my initiative came about, with the mission to instill confidence and empower inner-city youth to live to their full potential despite their circumstances.

The "More Than Enough" initiative consists of school talks, workshops, and one-on-one mentorship. But first, I like to focus on sharing my personal story, because I believe that when they hear about someone they can relate to and when they see what I have been able to do with my life, I can become an inspiration just by standing in front of them and telling my story.

Then I focus on building up their self-esteem and confidence within themselves, and shifting how they view the world around them. I always tell them that everything and anything they need to succeed in life, they already have inside of them. Then I give them the tools and concrete ways so they can stay on track and navigate who they truly are, what they want to do, and how to do it.

Working with inner-city and underprivileged youth is something that I am dedicating to doing for the rest of my life. I believe in the positive impact that this work will have on our society. Because no one should be capped on their capabilities.

If these kids don't have a role model in their lives, I am committed to being that for them.

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.