By Molly Timko • September 29, 2019•Writers in Residence, Careers
For this month's post, I am delighted to feature an interview with Rexanah P. Wyse, a first generation attorney and former prosecutor dedicated to changing the narrative for vulnerable populations. Rexanah currently works for the federal government where she serves on a policy team that is focused on youth homelessness, criminal justice, racial equity, human trafficking, and ending homelessness for families.
Could you tell Ms. JD blog readers about your background and what prompted you to apply to law school?
My lineage is directly tied to Sierra Leone in West Africa. A small developing nation with a powerful history of resiliency. I come from a family of immigrants with a legacy of strong women leaders—from small business owners, an accountant, educators, a locally elected official, and a civil servant. I identify as a Sierra Leonean-American.
My first exposure into the law was through an experience at my elementary school in Washington DC. For context, I attended a Title I school, otherwise known as a school where 40% or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. I was one of the students. At this wonderful elementary school, I had the great privilege of being involved with a peer mediation program when I was in the 4th grade. The peer mediation program was sponsored by a Big Law firm in DC. Several corporate attorneys from the firm trained and mentored young students to mediate conflict using a peer-to-peer model. That opportunity in working with Big Law attorneys in DC spurred my interest in wanting to pursue a career in law. The ability to advocate for others and make money while doing so caught my attention as a result of my peer mediation experience.
What were your biggest challenges as a law student?
My biggest challenge in law school was finding a rhythm that worked for me, rather than looking at other students' approaches to navigating law school. Everyone has unique strengths, and it took fumbling 1L year to better understand mine. I didn’t have anyone in my family I could go to for advice on how to succeed in law school, because no one in my family has ever been through that experience. My close friends did not have parents who practiced law that I could readily go to for advice. I grew up in an area of working class families that typically had service-based jobs such as cleaning services, nursing, and others. Law school was new territory for me. Overcoming this unchartered space required me to humble myself and ask for help to learn how to better study, manage my time, and improve my prioritization skills.
What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
My biggest professional accomplishment would be passing the bar exam! Although early in my career, without passing the bar exam, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had amazing opportunities to meaningfully impact youth. Amazing opportunities such as successfully litigating immigration cases in court, which enabled young children to remain safely in the United States without fear of being deported to abusive extortionist situations in the home country. Or other opportunities such as successfully expanding a truancy prevention program from 10 to 20 middle schools, which in turn allowed for over 300 families to be diverted from prosecution and instead connected to positive youth-focused services.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a first generation law student?
Remember, you deserve to be at your law school. You can compete. Visit your law school professors during office hours. More than once. Cultivate those relationships. You don’t have to attend every happy hour. Be kind to everyone while you’re in law school, because you never know who you will run into on the other side of the bench.
Could you recommend a book that inspired you or helped you in your career?
Shonda Rhimes “Year of Yes.” This book came at a pivotal time in my life where opportunities for career growth were beginning to come into fruition. I strongly recommend this book to any young attorney needing an extra push to accept unbelievable opportunities.
Rexanah P. Wyse, Esq. is a former prosecutor dedicated to changing the narrative for vulnerable populations. She currently works for the federal government. She serves on a policy team where she focuses on youth homelessness, criminal justice, racial equity, human trafficking, and ending homelessness for families. Previously, Rexanah served as the Criminal Justice Policy Analyst for the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Prior to this, she led diversionary efforts to address truancy for hundreds of youth as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland. Rexanah volunteers her time on boards including the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) State Advisory Board and the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN DC) Board of Directors. Through the DJS State Advisory Board, Rexanah is leading efforts to address gaps in educational opportunities for youth involved with the juvenile justice system.
Rexanah earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, with a concentration in Human Development from the University of Maryland, College Park. She earned her Juris Doctor and certificate of Public Service from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Rexanah is a proud Sierra Leonean-American.
If you're a first generation attorney or law student and you would like to be featured in a future "Something Blue: Bringing Blue-Collar Roots to the Legal Profession" blog post, please contact me or feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading!