Law school lunchtime “info sessions” were an excuse to get free Jimmy John’s or pizza. My first year of law school I was the info session queen (which explains the extra 15 pounds). When I walked in to the Street Law info session I knew right away it didn’t matter what they were serving for lunch, I was into it. At the front of the room were two women of color. One had the biggest hair I’d ever seen in real life and was tending to a small child who was restlessly scampering around the classroom. The women were talking with each other, laughing loudly with sparkling eyes. I turned in my application to be a Street Law student instructor the same day was later accepted into the program and had the privilege of teaching a class of seniors at Hope High School (mock trial runner ups I might add!).
At one of our weekly seminars the woman with the big hair showed up again as a guest speaker. Our instructors introduced her as “a woman you have to know.” She was off to the races. In Street Law you never really know what’s coming next so you learn to let go and let flow. This was one of those times. This woman was the most animated speaker I’d ever seen, a mile a minute, talking about being a college student and I though I kept thinking “where is this going?” I was totally hooked. She was ten minutes into her story before someone finally said “Can you tell us your name?” With a jovial eye roll and a belly laugh she told us she was Deanna Singh, the person who brought Street Law to Milwaukee.
Deanna is much more than the person who brought Street Law to Milwaukee. She started a nonprofit while she was in college in New York. Then she moved to Washington D.C. for law school and declared (as an ineligible 1L mind you) that she would be participating in Street Law. And then she hung around day after day until they gave her something to do. By the end of law school she was teaching multiple classes at multiple locations throughout the city. After graduation she decided her hometown needed Street Law too. So she copied all the materials and packed them up into binders and boxes and just started going from place to place and person to person telling them the wonders of Street Law. She tells the story of how every time she pitched and got a “no” she would go home and figure out how to change whatever their grievance was until finally Marquette Law School couldn’t say no anymore. Milwaukee Street Law Project was born. Deanna’s visit to our class that day, telling us about the roots of Street Law and seeing what it meant to her made me feel a part of of something so much bigger than a class. It was a calling. A true vehicle for change. A real opportunity to make a difference. We heard about Deanna’s vision for education in Milwaukee and her newest project, a school. That’s right. This woman wanted education in Milwaukee to be better…so she started a school.
A few years after graduation, I got an email from Deanna asking me to meet to discuss Street Law. Um, yup, I’m there. The program had lost some momentum, to the point of needing a year break. Deanna talked about Street Law with such care and concern. “Milwaukee needs Street Law.” She promised to help bring Street Law back to Marquette in whatever way she could…as long as I understood that correspondence should go through her assistant and that she only replied to emails when it was in her schedule because she was very cautious to protect her family time. All of this I took in with amazement. At the time Deanna was working for the Burke Foundation. Well, that’s how she casually put it. I found out later that she was CEO of the Burke Foundation, a charitable organization started by Dick Burke of Trek Bikes with the kind of resources at her disposal to provide financial backing for many of Milwaukee’s most important initiatives.
And still, every year, Deanna accepts our invitation to come back for that Street Law seminar and tell three or four law student instructors about their roots. Sometimes she still brings her children. Every year I watch her tell the stories and every year I hope that I’m doing this program justice, and with a fraction of the energy she has.
Deanna has done more than inspire me in this professional realm. The fact she brings her sons with her most places is one of the things I love most about her. It’s so real. It’s such a sign of the commitment she has to her values. One day her social media page was alive with news of a children’s book. “I am a Boy of Color” was a book she wrote to remind her sons and all of the other sons of color how incredible they are. A short time later another announcement, “I am a Girl of Color.” Keynote speaker for this. Guest of honor for that. Even a Ted Talk. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I receive an invite for another event, a book launch. “Purposeful Hustle: Directing Your Life’s Work Towards Making a Positive Impact.” Um, yup, I’m there.
At Deanna’s book launch today I learned that since leaving the Burke Foundation, she’s trained as a doula and started Birth Coach Milwaukee, become executive producer of Raghead, is a motivational speaker reaching thousands of people a year, and author of a novel in the works centered around female executives of color. She’s done more in her young life than ten regular people could ever accomplish, all because she has identified her purpose as a change maker and a builder of bridges. She is a true super woman and she inspires the hell out of me. “Purposeful Hustle” is about how to define your own purpose, the reason you exist, and use it to power you through the work it takes to create real change. I was struck by how aptly this has fit everything I’ve ever seen from Deanna. Standing in one of the most diverse crowds I’ve seen here in Milwaukee hearing Deanna profess the power each of us has to change our own world and then change the world I knew that this wasn’t empty talk: Deanna had done it. Now it’s our turn.
Please consider supporting this outstanding human and the causes she supports. Her books make fantastic gifts.