Yodit is without a doubt a continuous #WCW for me. In one of my first posts, I talk about how much I adore powerful women and she certainly exemplifies that. Beyond her obvious beauty (no, literally. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Women in Dallas last year), she’s incredibly intelligent, and fearless. We connected over social media and I’ve watched her journey over the past year through controversial TV discussions, witty tweets and valuable opinions of current events. Read a bit below about why she’s indeed such a Boss –
You were born in Sudan after your parents sought refuge from the Eritrea/Ethiopian war, where they soon immigrated to the United States. What was it like to try and be a normal American kid with a strong cultural background in your household?
It was tough growing up with a dual identity and trying to balance the expectations and norms of two cultures, i.e., “being black enough” vs. “being African enough.” I was that kid in school with the eccentric name that always prompted that awkward, and oftentimes humiliating pause during roll call before the teacher butchered my name trying to pronounce it. I had to constantly fight against those “African booty scratcher” jokes while trying to convince people that Africa wasn’t a primitive wasteland. Among my African peers, I was somewhat of a disappointment because I wasn’t a fluent speaker of Tigrinya, my native tongue. Although I grew up hearing Tigrinya, my parents primarily communicated with me in English in an effort to learn the language quicker.
It wasn’t always the easiest navigating through these issues, especially as a kid. Even today, as an adult with a secured sense of identity, I still find myself having to jump these same hurdles. Not being black enough because my ancestors weren’t slaves, so I couldn’t possibly understand the plight of black Americans. Or not being African enough because I’m perceived as being too far removed from my culture because I identify with and advocate against those social, political and economic injustices WE as black Americans face.
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
Some people were born knowing what they were destined to be. That definitely wasn’t me. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to be until I had to make a decision about what I was going to do with an English degree. I was either going to grad school to become a professor or go to law school. I absolutely hated math and science, so law school it was. Any lawyer will tell you that people who hate both math and science usually end up in law school!
It may have taken me a while to figure out what career path to take, but what I’ve always done and continue to do is fight for the underdog. That’s the answer to the more important question of why I ended up practicing criminal law as a trial lawyer.
You went to Texas A&M, a predominantly white school, for undergrad and then onto Southern University for law school, which is a HBCU. How different were the two and what did each teach you?
My time at Texas A&M came with many first-time experiences. My freshman year alone consisted of an affirmative action bake sale and a racist image depicted in the school’s newspaper, which prompted the largest demonstration over race relations in the history of the University at that time. I was usually the only black student in a classroom of several hundred and I can only remember having one black professor. However, aside from the racial tensions and passive aggressive acts on campus, I still credit Texas A&M for helping shape who I am today. I learned a great deal about my cultural identity and despite my need to acclimate, I learned how to openly embrace my culture in an environment where a majority of people didn’t look like me.
Southern was definitely a different experience. There was no struggle to acclimate or identify. I was no longer the minority but a part of the majority. Discussions about black issues weren’t reserved for Black Student Alliance meetings. There wasn’t a constant struggle to confront ignorance in a hostile environment about black culture. Southern provided an intimate learning environment where I was valued and accepted. My colleagues, faculty and staff were more like family, who challenged me both inside and outside the classroom. Southern taught me the value of creating, fostering and maintaining good relationships in order to build a strong network. That same network has helped to get me where I am.
You began your career as a prosecutor for the Dallas County DA’s office. How did your experiences there aid your transition to become a defense attorney?
I don’t think anything could prepare you for criminal defense work better than being a prosecutor. I gained invaluable experience as a trial lawyer. I mean, it was baptism by fire when I was thrown into trial on my 2nd day as a prosecutor. But through trial and error and losing a few cases, I learned my signature style in the courtroom. Prosecuting cases taught me the intricacies of the criminal justice system.
What made you go the entrepreneurial route of owning your own firm as opposed to working for one? How did you overcome the doubts of stepping out into the unfamiliar?
I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, but understood that I needed the proper training and experience before hanging out my own shingle. After several years of prosecuting cases with the Dallas District Attorney’s Office, I was confident and prepared enough to take that leap over to criminal defense. Not only was I ready to use my skills to aggressively represent the underdog, I wanted to share my knowledge of the justice system to educate people on the legal process.
Making the decision to leave a secured positon to start my own practice wasn’t without doubts and fears. The what ifs can keep the greatest ideas at bay, but ironically, its what drives me. I mean, what if I succeed? I learned early on that without struggle, there’s no progress, so I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. January 20, 2014 was the day I stopped limiting my challenges and started challenging my limits and it was the best decision I could’ve made.
You’ve been a part of News One Now with Roland Martin, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, the Dr. Drew Show on HLN and other major news publications. How did that first opportunity come about and describe some of the feelings that came with it.
There was an Aggie Alumni charity bowling event last year. Roland Martin, a fellow Aggie, was one of the celebrity hosts. As a well-respected journalist and the host of his own show on TV One, Roland was someone I needed to meet, so I attended the event. It took a minute for me to work up the courage to approach Roland, but my dream of becoming a legal analyst superseded any anxiety I had. I walked over to Roland and said, “My name is Yodit Tewolde and I’m a legal analyst. You need me on your show.” About a week later, I was meeting up with my sorority sister to have dinner at one of my favorite Mediterranean spots. Then I got the call that almost had me swerve off the road. Roland had invited me to go on his show to talk about the Freddie Gray case. I cancelled dinner and drove home to get prepared for my first national TV appearance doing something I had never done before…legal analysis! The rest was history. Roland gave me my first crack at TV and it opened up so many other doors for me.
When you appear on major news channels such as CNN, Fox or HLN you’re normally the minority; whether it be you being a woman or a woman of color. Black women are so easily scrutinized. How do you balance standing firm in your opinions without coming off as an “angry black woman”?
I choose not to engage in the balancing act. The “angry black woman” narrative is nothing more than an attempt to silence me, so I refuse to give it life. My only job on TV is to engage, educate and connect with the audience. It isn’t to continuously dismantle false stereotypes of black women. Attempting to do so only compromises how I naturally express myself. I have strong opinions and at times, I do feel anger. Standing firm in my convictions means expressing my thoughts and feelings unapologetically.
With all of the injustice that goes on with minorities and African Americans here in the US, how does it affect your job as an attorney?
It doesn’t necessarily affect my job as a criminal defense attorney as much as it reaffirms why my role in the criminal justice system is so important. Thanks to smartphones and social media activism, this country is just now seeing what I, and so many others have been fighting against for years.
You pride yourself on mentoring. Why is serving your community and others that look like you so important?
It’s important to remember where you came from, how you got to where you are now, and to help those that came from the very same place. Unfortunately, our youth today, particularly young African Americans don’t have access to positive role models who could help them not only visualize a successful future but achieve it.
What’s your B Werd?
There’s so many B words that resonate with me, but you can’t embody genius, fearlessness and power without being BOLD. I choose to be BOLD in spite of difficulties, obstacles or fears. I choose to be BOLD when challenging the status quo. I choose to be BOLD by taking risks and being unafraid to fail because I understand that failure is only a delay and not a dead end. Freedom lies in being BOLD. I’ve found my freedom.