Melesa Johnson, 27

“In 2017, only 4% of all United States attorneys are African American women, and I want to be a walking and talking example to any young minority that they can aspire to and achieve that 4%.”

In your own words

I am an Attorney at Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice, LLC who practices civil defense litigation. Prior to joining Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice, LLC as an Associate Attorney, I was an Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor where I won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award and oversaw the office’s law internship program. I currently serve as a member of the Kansas City Liquor Control Review Board (appointed by Mayor Sly James) and the Jackson County Community Backed Anti-Drug Sales Tax (COMBAT) Drug Commission (appointed by County Executive Frank White). I also serve as a Lead to Read volunteer at Garfield Elementary School during the school year and on the 2017 First Hand Masquerade Ball Fundraising Court.

Additionally, the Missouri Bar recently selected me to receive The Missouri Bar 2017 Tom Cochran Community Service Award. The award, named after Thomas D. Cochran (1934-1981) for his commitment and contributions to the practice of law and his community, is presented annually by the Young Lawyers’ Section of The Missouri Bar to a lawyer whose community service and professionalism have significantly enhanced his or her community. I am also a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. which is the first African American sorority founded in 1908.

KC story

I am proud to say that I was born and raised in the inner city of Kansas City, MO. Although the environment was not always the best or the safest, it truly molded me into the person I am today, which is partially why I am so invested in community service endeavors that directly affect our community. Many of the people I grew up with have ventured down less than favorable paths, but I fully recognize that had it not been for my mother who worked three jobs and actively managed my free time, I could have spiraled down a negative path myself. Therefore, I view it as my responsibility to be a resource to other kids in the inner city with potential that just need a helping hand.

In fact, I love Kansas City so much that it primarily determined where I went to law school. Many people did not understand why I wanted to return home after receiving my undergraduate degree at Columbia University in the city of New York in 2007. However, I knew attending law school at the University of Missouri – Columbia would give me a great opportunity to network with local alumni and ultimately commence my practice in the place I’ve always called home.

A day in the life

Fortunately, there are not very many typical aspects of my day! One constant is that I usually wake up at 5:30am to exercise (unless I fall victim to the snooze button). After I work out, it is non-stop activity until I fall asleep around 10:00pm. The beautiful thing about the practice of law is that I am constantly called to solve a new problem, which requires me to learn new information. No case, issue, or day is identical in my office, which definitely keeps things both interesting and sometimes extremely difficult.  Sometimes my workday includes a court appearance or a meeting/hearing with either the COMBAT Drug Commission or the Kansas City Liquor Control Review Board, and every Wednesday during the school year I spend my lunch hour at Garfield Elementary School reading with students through the Lead to Read Program.

I try to maintain a decent work/life balance, thus I aim to end my workday around 6:00pm (although given I am a litigator, I have found myself in the office until 2:00am in the past). After work, my evenings consist of spending time with family, friends or colleagues. I am a firm believer that investing time, attention, and care into your valued relationships yields great reward, thus I make it a priority.

Legacy

Above all, I would like to be known as an inspiration. Many children in the inner city or matriculating through the Kansas City, Missouri School District do not have confidence in their ability to attend college; let alone become a lawyer or other skilled professional. I believe this is largely because there are not enough living examples that are visible in their community telling them otherwise. In 2017, only 4% of all United States attorneys are African American women, and I want to be a walking and talking example to any young minority that they can aspire to and achieve that 4%. Representation in all aspects of life is extremely important because it enables young children that identify with a particular cultural or ethnic background to understand and believe that they achieve anything they put their mind to.

Whoa

I would love to own my own restaurant one day specializing in traditional comfort/southern cuisine all under a 500 calorie per meal cap. I used to run a meal preparation service at the Prosecutor’s Office that followed the same philosophy. Elected Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was one of my clients. I had to shut it down due to having too many customers and no sous chef. However, one day I would love to implement the idea in the form of a food truck or restaurant with a full staff to assist!

Protip

I would advise young Kansas Citians to find the time to give back to their community in whatever capacity suits their passion. I believe this pertains to those that have relocated as well. Take a moment and wonder what our city would look like if every intelligent, talented, and ambitious young Kansas Citian used their talents to positively affect Kansas City regardless of their current dwelling place. If that happened, I believe crime would be reduced, we would have a stronger economy, and more inclusive political climate.