Natasha Perdew Silas
Hello my GACDL brothers and sisters. I want to begin my year as your President with a message of love - love and admiration for defenders and for what defenders do. Love and admiration for all of you.
My love for defenders began when I was a child - through stories my parents told me about the lawyer who represented them when they were jailed during the movement. They were both so impacted by their defender. He saw them through very difficult times. His name was C B King.
C B King’s skilled and compassionate representation cut through the darkness and fear that came from being jailed by people who openly despised my parents and what they stood for. They spoke of how it made them feel to hear C B’s beautiful baritone voice call out their names with dignity and respect as he offered them his services. He pursued their cases with great attention and skill. The care that C B King took with their cases really mattered to them. (I can only hope that my own interactions with clients bring similar sentiments.)
I was so excited when our former President James Yancey told me that C B King was the first person he encountered when he joined GACDL. C B King was my childhood hero and the inspiration for my life’s work. And his heroism for me, was cemented by the knowledge that less than one year prior to the moment he stood in my parents’ jail cells, C.B. King had been beaten by a Dougherty County sheriff’s deputy for having the nerve to request a visit with a client.
This picture shows C.B. with a bandaged head and blood-stained shirt giving an interview to reporters and fearlessly vowing to continue the fight for justice. If any of us ever think we have it rough, we need only to think of C B King to be inspired to get back in there and keep fighting the good fight.
C B King’s association with GACDL is one of many reasons I am enormously proud to be a part of this great organization. I am the fifth African-American of the 46 GACDL Presidents in its forty-nine-year history. The late, Judge John H. Ruffin, Jr., Brunswick stalwart defender James Yancey, the inimitable Dwight Thomas, and my beloved friend Cynthia Roseberry, all precede me. When I scan the complete list of the impressive women and men who have served in this role, I am humbled and hope I will be equal to the task.
For those of you whom I already know, I will strive to do you proud. Many of you have mentored and uplifted me over the years that I have been in this great profession. [Just a few tiny shout outs here - Gary Spencer – taught me how to try a case and then guided me to my first acquittal. We fought many battles together while he was with the Federal Defender. Christine Koehler and Jennifer Koehler invited me to my first ever GACDL event. Laura Hogue recruited and appointed me to the GACDL Board which led to my standing here today as your President. And my husband Kendal Silas, a fellow Federal Defender, who is a newly renewed member of GACDL, has been my solid rock every day of our lives together.] The love and support of all of my GACDL friends has meant so much to me.
For those I do not yet know, I really do hope to get to know you over the course of this year. I can (we all can) be a little shy of approaching someone we do not know. But I know that whenever I have the courage to approach a someone at a GACDL event, I will always find points of commonality. This great work that we do is the thread that holds our community together. For me, GACDL has always meant community. Community is so important in our profession because, as essential as the work is, it is difficult and hard on those who do it.
I also believe that the diversity in our community is one of GACDL’s greatest strengths. We are public and private defenders. We are federal and state defenders. We hold a vast array of social identities: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin. And yet we are drawn together, because of our kindred hearts. We all know that it is a special thing to have the heart of a defender. It is the heart of a fighter and of someone who cares for the least among us.
And then there is this more practical consideration: Among such a rich and varied assemblage, someone nearly always knows the answer to any puzzling situation that may arise anywhere in the state. Last night I was looking at how strong we are in our Area Vice Presidents – just look at them here. No matter what part of the state we may be in, there is a friendly face and someone who can offer help. We really do roll deep in this community.
We also know that sometimes our diversity can be a flashpoint for conflict. We do come from different lived experiences, different times, different places, and different perspectives. I can still remember when Shawn Hoover had the courage to come up to this podium to tell us that he was feeling unsupported by GACDL. Because of the love and respect that I have for each of you and that we have for each other, we must work to make each other feel supported. My favorite Maya Angelou quote is this: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. In order to really accomplish this, we have to really see each other; we have to really hear each other; and we have to seek to better understand each other.
I applaud Immediate Past-President Jason Sheffield for the courageous step he undertook during his presidency to create the “No Racism, Know Racism” initiative. Jason’s initiative reminded me of my second favorite Maya Angelou quote which is -- Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. My hope is that we will continue to reach for better and build upon Jason’s important initiative in 2023.
2023 will be a year of transition for GACDL. Jill Travis gave us five fantastic years of leadership. She poured her heart and soul into pushing GACDL to be better and greater. We can all applaud her amazing leadership. And our new Executive Director Mazie Lynn Guertin has stepped up to take the lead. And we have every confidence that Mazie Lynn will continue on the foundation that Jill has built and take us in new directions too as we meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Finally, I cannot and will not fail to mention that a month ago, we lost a true Georgia criminal defense giant, Mercer Law School Professor, the Founding Dean of the National Criminal Defense College, and a Charter Member of GACDL, Deryl Dantzler. As I reflect on this daughter of Georgia who committed her life to making all criminal defense attorneys everywhere better and braver, it makes me all the prouder to be a Georgia defender. Georgia’s criminal defense bar has always shone brightly.
As we take on the challenges of 2023, let us do so as a community united in our commitment to uplift and support each other, to better understand and even celebrate our differences, and to be ever in pursuit of ways to become better and braver defenders. I am very proud to be a Georgia criminal defense lawyer and I am honored to be your president this year.
Much love to you all.Natasha Perdew Silas