Attorney Michael-Sean Spence Talks Humanizing Criminal Justice

Attorney Michael-Sean Spence Talks Humanizing Criminal Justice

Name: Michael-Sean Spence

Profession: Profession: Attorney/Policymaker

Age: 34

I have changed/contributed to my industry by: I have contributed to my industry by adding a unique voice to policy discussions that inform the way law enforcement agencies operate throughout New York State and spearheading special projects and strategic initiatives to address emerging trends like opioid addiction.

What is your inspiration?

My mother’s journey gives me the greatest inspiration. She and my father immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1960s with little more than the clothes on their backs. In the decades that followed, she attained an advanced degree, established herself in her profession, developed long-lasting relationships, purchased a home and provided me with an education and opportunities that put me on a path to success while showing me what success was. What she accomplished, with hard work and dedication, serves as a constant reminder of the effort necessary to progress in life. When I feel like taking a break or find myself not pushing as hard as I can, I think of the days when I’d accompany her on her second job as a visiting nurse. House-to-house, helping others, so my life could be better than hers.

The BE Modern Man tagline is “it is our normal to be extraordinary.” What makes you unique and stand apart from the crowd?

The diversity of my academic and professional experience combined with my station at the crossroads of criminal justice, community and culture gives me a unique perspective when contemplating criminal justice issues, policy decisions and strategic solutions to recent trends.

Since the age of 17, I’ve worked or interned every summer — New York Life Insurance, Northrop Grumman, WorldCom, Universal Music and Fox Broadcasting — while I attended the University of Maryland – College Park; and Twentieth Century Fox, Radio One, a NYC law firm, and on Capitol Hill while I attended Howard University School of Law. During the school year, I excelled academically, won Top 10 Freshman and Student of the Year awards and attained various leadership positions to round out my experience.

Following law school I returned to New York City where I became an Assistant District Attorney in Queens, NY, where I was born and raised. I served as an ADA for 8 years, cycling through the Criminal Court Bureau, Domestic Violence Bureau and the Special Proceedings Bureau’s Crimes Against Revenue Unit where I specialized in white-collar crimes. While serving as an Assistant District Attorney, I briefly co-hosted a late night show on NYC radio station Hot 97 and went on to work closely with talent and on-air personalities to manage and develop their brands. In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Grammy award winning producer 88-Keys to develop his independent record label, with Apple’s Soho, NY retail store to produce installments of their ‘Meet the Musicians’ platform, with Heineken to introduce their “Green Room” series to Harlem, New York and with a variety of other clients on brand strategy, content creation and influencer marketing. I’ve also appeared on BET, FUSE and Hot 97 to discuss criminal justice issues during periods of crisis within our community. In my spare time I’ve lectured at Montclair State University and The New School on professional development.

The totality of my experiences from then until now inform my perspective and allows me to produce a unique voice at the table.

What do you believe is your greatest achievement personally and/or professionally?

My greatest professional achievement to date is my current appointment by New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo as an Empire State Fellow at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. As an Empire State Fellow, I create administrative and procedural policies for law enforcement agencies throughout New York State; implement new legislation; advocate for new regulations, systems and procedures to enhance public safety; advise various inter-agency task forces and advisory councils; spearhead special projects and strategic initiatives to address emerging trends; and, consult on law enforcement trainings and curriculum to assure best practices are incorporated.

In this role, I have a rare opportunity to create new solutions whether they are new equipment, better training, new policy or legislative amendments. I’m able to advocate for progress, albeit incremental, to those who can implement it statewide.

What was your most challenging role and why?

My initial years as an Assistant District Attorney were the most challenging. Low pay, heavy workload, school loans and the bar pretty much sum it up. I regularly managed a caseload of about 250 cases and having 40 of those cases scheduled for the same day was not uncommon. It was a constant grind, but that’s what I signed up for. Following law school I wanted the opportunity to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and to represent the community I was raised in. As an Assistant District Attorney I was thrown into the fire and given that opportunity. Years later, I’m grateful for it as I utilize the skills today that I developed then.

How do leaders like yourself break through the static and make impact amongst your peers?

Being true to self and consistency. At the end of the day, there are many of us who are pushing the needle forward in our own way. Be it criminal justice, music, fashion, medicine or education. It’s critical we use the tools we’ve been afforded via our hard work and blessings to enact change and breed progress. If you paint, paint and push us to new horizons with your brush. But be you and true to yourself while you’re doing it. Then do it consistently, whether in a crowd or in a closet. Those who have the fortitude to continue along their path when the cheers subside will be the ones to make an impact. I truly believe success and change are not achieved over night but require being the best you you can be and staying the course.

What is the key piece of advice you can offer to younger generation of BE Modern Men attempting to cultivate a successful career?

Begin at the end. That’s a personal mantra of mine that reminds me to begin any project or undertaking with a clear vision of the desired direction and end goal. This approach allows me to strategize each step to achieve the end goal. I encourage you to think big and then spiral down.

Why is it important that BE Modern Men like you are represented in your industry?

I’m extremely proud that I’m able to sit at the table with police chiefs from across the state and discuss burgeoning criminal justice issues, work across agencies to fashion unique solutions to trends like opioid addiction, review new legislation and give my opinion and propose amendments to the penal law in an effort to humanize criminal justice. It’s critical that people know this work is being done and that we have a capable voice contributing to these conversations on a statewide level.

As a man with a strong character, how do you see your own impact within your community?

I see my impact when I visit schools to speak to kids and explain what I do. Whether it was when I was an Assistant District Attorney or currently as a policy maker few have met a black male with either title and it immediately broadens their ideas of what we as black men do professionally and in turn, what they can do. It’s powerful to see a person who looks like you achieve. My impact is being an example.

How do you see your own narrative as enabling others to change the conversation and break free from the conventionality placed upon the African American community?

My narrative is completely diametric to any black male stereotype. As a lawyer, former Assistant District Attorney and now an appointed policymaker, I’m proof that the conventional black male stereotype has been shattered. I, along with the many other BE Modern Men, serve as confirmation of the gains black men and the African American community have made and continue to make every day. Adding my narrative to the many who have come before me, as a sort of catalog of excellence, will hopefully inspire others to continue to challenge these stereotypes and themselves.

What does a BE Modern Man mean to you?

Being a BE Modern Man means that I am among a select group of men who exemplify excellence and achievement, who together create an inspiring tableau for future generations of black men to follow

It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @blackenterprise and join the BE Modern Man conversation using #BEModernMan.