BDLI 2022 Cohort

About the Black Defender Leadership Institute

BPDA developed the Black Defender Leadership Institute (BDLI) to train emerging Black leaders and support them in becoming the next generation of leaders in public defense who are equipped to dismantle systems of racialized oppression. BDLI was designed to encourage participants to see themselves as part of the movement and to seek leadership positions at their organizations whenever available.

BDLI is the first of its kind in the country. It provides specialized leadership training for Black defenders along with professional support tailored to the unique lived experiences of balancing their professional development in an overwhelmingly white profession while helping their fellow Black brethren navigate through traumatic systems of oppression and harm. BDLI is unique in its mission to offer continuous personalized support to Black emerging leaders as they reach new benchmarks, assume new positions, and achieve career goals

BDLI 1.0

Joyce Akhahenda works as Chief Deputy with the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office. Ms. Akhahenda also teaches paralegal students at the Community College of Denver (CCD). Joyce Akhahenda received her Juris Doctor degree from Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005; Bachelor of Science from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas; and earned an international mediation certificate from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Prior to her advanced education, she served the United States Peace Corps in Nyanga, Zimbabwe and worked for Africare as a program manager in Washington DC and as an Administrative Officer in Lusaka, Zambia.

Ms. Akhahenda spends her free time volunteering with Learn Your Rights in Colorado (LYRIC) and with the Sam Cary Bar Association and DU Law Mentorship Programs. She has testified before the Colorado State legislature on various criminal justice bills. Ms. Akhahenda is Treasurer and Executive Board Member of the Sam Cary Bar Association and Secretary/Treasurer of the Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section. Ms. Akhahenda is a member of the 2022 class of the Colorado Bar Association’s Colorado Diverse Attorney Community Circle (CODACC) and is on the planning committee for the 2023 class. Ms. Akhahenda is also a participant of the Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety and is on the Colorado Interstate Compact State Council.

Sophia Barilone graduated from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. She began her legal career practicing in immigration, representing undocumented people in deportation hearings and asylum cases. Thereafter, she joined Maryland Legal Aid Inc. and represented clients in divorce and custody, housing, bankruptcy, and social security for five years. Now, she is currently an Assistant Public Defender in Baltimore City, Maryland. Sophia has been a public defender for almost 3 years.

She is a fearless advocate in her community for equal justice and immigration reform. She serves on several executive boards and associations. Sophia is married with two young boys. 

Carmen earned her BA and MA at Washington University in St. Louis. She fell in love with indigent defense during her criminal law clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. Since then, Carmen worked in the Nashville Public Defender’s Office for a year before moving home to Denver, CO. After acting as a paralegal in death penalty cases, Carmen was fortunate to land at a three-attorney firm committed to indigent criminal defense and indigent representation in dependency and neglect cases. Carmen transitioned back into a full-time Public Defender role in May of 2019 when she served as a Deputy State Public Defender in her hometown. Carmen currently works as an Assistant Federal Public Defender at the Federal Defender Program, Inc. in Atlanta, GA.

Danielle Broussard is currently the Section Chief/Staff Attorney in Acadia Parish for the 15th Judicial District Public Defenders Office. She has been working for the 15th Judicial District Public Defenders Office for 4 years and has been practicing as an attorney for 5 years.

She is a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in English & Child and Family Studies. She is also a graduate of Southern University Law Center. In her downtime, Danielle likes to read books, watch movies, and spend time with family and friends.

Sara has diverse experience as a criminal litigator. She has the perspective and experience of a lead felony defense attorney and a parish prosecutor — two roles she has held during her tenure as an attorney. Sara has handled dozens of cases — including life without parole (LWOP), crimes against persons, white collar crimes, and a capital case.

Sara has instructed junior attorneys on Jury Trials, Voir Dire, Case Management, Client Communications & Rapport Building, and Plea Offer Negotiations & Mitigation. She was an Apex Section Chief in over four Sections of District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish; managed nearly 15 employees including attorneys and support staff; and she served as liaison between Judges and Office of the Public Defender management.

She was raised in Baton Rouge, and has settled in New Orleans. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Louisiana State University in 2004 and received her Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center in 2007. Sara is the daughter of the late Dr. Robert Anderson and Denise Anderson, wife of Dr. Dedric Clarke, mother of Caleb, Christian, Carmichael and Charlotte.

Sharene Ginyard is an Assistant Public Defender with over 20 years of experience. She is currently an attorney in the Child Advocate Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. A graduate of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, she began her career as a public defender in 1999. She left briefly to become Assistant General Counsel for the School District of Philadelphia. She returned to her roots as an advocate for underserved and underrepresented communities when she returned to the Defender Association in 2017.

Sharene believes in giving back to her community. She has volunteered at the Eastern Service Workers Association in Philadelphia providing legal advice to immigrant farm workers and their families. She has volunteered her time at several shelters by feeding and clothing the homeless, as well as sorting and distributing books for underfunded schools in Philadelphia and New Jersey. 

At the Defender Association, Sharene is a volunteer at Defender community events, including expungement clinics. She is currently a member of the diversity and policy committees at the Defender Association. She recently received her Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate which she plans to use to continue the fight for justice in her community.

Quiana Harris is a native of a small town in eastern North Carolina named Rich Square, and Summa Cum Laude graduate of Winston-Salem State University. Thereafter, Quiana attended Howard University School of Law where she represented clients through the Criminal Justice Clinic and was the Executive Notes and Comments Editor for the Howard Law Journal. Throughout law school, Quiana also interned and clerked at various public defenders’ offices and public interest organizations including: Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in the Prisoners’ Rights Section; DC Federal Public Defenders’ Office; and the United States District Court of Maryland. 

Quiana’s commitment to academic excellence and servicing minority and overlooked communities has also been recognized by the Washington Bar Association, as she was the first recipient of the Dr. J. Clay Smith Jr., Equal Justice Scholar Award. Quiana was recently awarded a Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award at the 2022 Burton Awards.

Upon graduation from Howard Law, the first-generation Esquire joined the faculty of Georgetown Law School as an E. Barrett Prettyman Fellow, where supervised third year law students in Georgetown’s Juvenile Justice Clinic while also representing children and adults in the DC Superior Court. Upon completion of the Prettyman Fellowship, Quiana was awarded a LL.M. in Advocacy. Quiana has now joined the D.C. Public Defender Service as a general felony trial attorney. 

Danita Ivory is the Chief of the First Municipal Division of the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender. Danita started with the Cook County Public Defender’s office in 2004 as an assistant public defender. As an assistant public defender, she represented clients in juvenile delinquency petitions, parents accused of abuse or neglect where the State sought removal of the children from their custody, and adults charged in felony cases including first degree murder. In 2015, Danita was promoted to Attorney Supervisor in the Felony Trial Division. As a supervisor, she supervised 15 assistant public defenders assigned to the Felony Trial Division and 50 assistants who covered weekend and holiday bond court. In 2019, Danita was promoted to Chief of the First Municipal Division. As Chief, she supervises 40+ attorneys assigned to misdemeanor cases and 3 supervisors. Danita has represented clients in over 75 jury trials, countless bench trials, and over ten first-degree murder trials.

Ryan has been an attorney for 7 years and is currently a trial team supervisor in the Felony Division of the Hamilton County, OH Public Defender’s Office. In addition to her role as a supervisor, she maintains a full caseload of 60-70 cases. As a felony trial attorney, Ryan maintains a client-centered, holistic approach to representing clients in all stages of the criminal legal process. Through this work, it is her aim to assert the constitutional rights and human dignity of everyone who encounters the criminal legal system. While demanding, Ryan’s work serves as an intricate piece to the reform and compassion the legal system so desperately needs.

Ryan’s commitment to uplift expands beyond her profession and is rooted in prioritizing relationships. Ryan is an active member of the Greater Cincinnati community. She serves on the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, the Hamilton County Drug Court Advisory Board; she is a member and mentor for the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati and the Summer Work Experience in Law program; she has been a coach for the Hamilton County Mock Trial Team; and she has served as co-coordinator of the Hamilton County Youth Court Diversion Program. Ryan knows that she stands on the shoulders of those who have come before her; therefore, she recognizes that as she climbs, she must lift and empower those who are coming behind her.

Tiffany Reid-Collazo is currently a Staff Attorney in the Juvenile Services Program of the Community Defender Division at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS). She received a Master’s in African Diasporic History from Howard University and later graduated from American University Washington College of Law after deciding on law as the weapon with which she would use in the fight for Black liberation.

Tiffany is currently an Ambassador for Racial Justice with the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative and the Gault Center (formerly the National Juvenile Defender Center). She is also the Chair of the Community Aid Subcommittee of the Youth Justice Project (YJP), which partners with community-based organizations to address the needs of youth under the supervision of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), the Co-Chair of PDS’s internal Police Reform Committee, and serves on various community-based youth advocacy committees.

Theo Shaw is a Staff Attorney in the Trial Division at the Public Defender Service for D.C. Prior to joining PDS, he was a Prettyman Fellow with Georgetown University Law Center’s Criminal Defense & Prisoner Advocacy Clinic. Following law school, Theo clerked for the Hon. Chief Justice Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court. While at law school, he was a Gates Public Service Law Scholar, he externed for the Hon. Richard Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, and interned with the Public Defender Service for D.C. and the Bronx Defenders. Before law school, Theo was a client advocate with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s New Orleans office for three years, and he spent a summer during college interning with the Innocence Project New Orleans. He received his LL.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown University Law Center, J.D. from the University of Washington, and B.A. in Political Science from the University of Louisiana, Monroe. Theo was one of the “Jena Six,” a group of Black high school students wrongly arrested and jailed in Jena, Louisiana in a 2006 case that garnered national attention.

Christopher Swaby is an attorney in private practice accepting appointments to represent indigent defendants charged with class A offenses around the state. He began his career in 1990 as a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Christopher moved to eastern Washington in 2000, where he practiced on the felony defense panel in Benton County. He moved to the Seattle area and joined the Defender Association (TDA) as a staff attorney in the felony division, later promoted to felony division supervisor. Christopher left TDA in 2012 and joined a small boutique criminal defense firm. In 2015, he left the firm to start a solo criminal defense practice. He has represented clients in matters across Washington State. Christopher is the immediate past president of the board of the Washington Defender Association. He also sits on the Washington State Bar Association’s Council on Public Defense and Diversity committees, as well as the Joint Legislative Task Force on Jail Standards.

Christopher was born and raised in Washington, DC. He has a BA in psychology from the University of Virginia and his JD from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Kasandra Washington has dedicated nearly a decade to public defense. After graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2013, Kasandra joined the 15th Judicial Public Defenders Office as a Data Entry Clerk. In 2017, Kasandra joined the Orleans Public Defenders Office as a client advocate. In 2019 under the leadership of Michael Mitchell and Lindsey Blouin, Kasandra joined the East Baton Rouge Office of the Public Defender as a Mitigation Specialist/Investigator. During her time with EBROPD, Kasandra produced mitigation and investigation work for all cases in which juveniles were charged as adults. Kasandra also became a licensed private investigator. In October 2021, Kasandra returned to the 15th Judicial Public Defenders Office as the Chief Investigator.  

Kasandra believes all clients deserve quality representation. As public defenders, we must ensure the client is viewed as a human being, not a docket number.

BDLI 2.0

Emmanuel Andre is the Deputy of Policy and Strategic Litigation in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender. Before joining the office in 2021, Mr. Andre spent over 11 years litigating the most complex types of criminal cases in Cook County, with a focus on cases involving violence. In addition, in 2010, Mr. Andre co-created Circles and Ciphers, a restorative justice organization that incorporates hip hop to resolve conflicts independent of the courts and create a path toward healing. Mr. Andre’s professional experience sits at a unique intersection of community-based work and expertise in navigating technical systems and criminal cases on behalf of individual clients. In 2021, Mr. Andre was awarded Wesleyan Investive’s inaugural Tom Locke Innovative Leader Award. Mr. Andre has called Chicago home for over a decade, and he carries a personal commitment to supporting young Black men in developing healthy emotional expressions and caring relationships.

Social justice advocate and attorney Aisha Cornelius Edwards is currently the Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA). CGLA is a holistic legal services and advocacy organization that provides free services to people who have been negatively impacted by the criminal legal system in Chicago and Illinois. Aisha has dedicated her career to working in the public interest and community services, and has been committed to providing access to justice and advocating for fairer outcomes for more than 20 years. Through her years as a litigator, she has conducted hundreds of trials, motions, and hearings and has also argued in front of both the Illinois Appellate and Illinois Supreme Courts. Aisha has served in various nonprofit policy and advocacy roles in addition to practicing law, including at the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, and the Civitas Childlaw Center at Loyola.

Aisha’s leadership is focused on creating an internal- and external-aligned culture of equity and wellness, through a trauma-informed, community-centered, anti-racist lens. Aisha is also an adjunct professor at the Loyola Chicago University School of Law and a part time entrepreneur. She holds an executive MBA focused on innovative and strategic leadership from the University of Illinois and a JD from Loyola University School of Law. She is a prior Shriver Institute for Racial Justice Fellow as well as a prior Connecting Leaders Fellow through the Association for Black Foundation Executives.

Shayla Marshall is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director for the Missouri State Public Defender System where she leads the diversity, equity and inclusion policy and programming in the areas of recruitment, hiring, training and employee relations. Shayla Marshall previously served as the District Defender of the Missouri State Public Defender’s St. Joseph Office where she led a staff of high-level criminal defense lawyers and legal assistants in pursuit of justice on behalf of the accused. Ms. Marshall has tried cases from misdemeanors to murder in the first degree, and frequently presents on litigating race, racial justice and anti-bias in the workplace. Ms. Marshall is on the board of directors for the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a member of the National Association for Public Defense’s Racial Justice Litigation Committee and Racial Justice Policy Committee, and is also a member of the Jackson County Bar Association and Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association. Ms. Marshall also serves as a Commissioner on the Missouri Supreme Court Commission for Racial and Ethnic Fairness.

Brittany Mobley is the Juvenile Services Program Deputy Chief within the Community Defender Division of the Public Defender Service (PDS) for D.C. She first joined the Juvenile Services Program for PDS in July 2015 as a staff attorney. Prior to PDS, Brittany was a senior attorney at the Children’s Law Center within their Guardian ad Litem Program representing children in the family regulation system for about four years. Brittany joined the Children’s Law Center immediately after graduating from Howard University School of Law. While at Howard Law, she worked as a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic representing adults in misdemeanor cases and also as a law clerk for PDS in both the Juvenile Services Program and the former Community Reentry Program. 

Currently, Brittany sits on the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council, is the Vice-Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the American Bar Association, is an advisory board member for the Mid-Atlantic Region of The Gault Center, and is a founding member and National Secretary of the Black Public Defender Association. Brittany also is a proud alumna of the 2021 Ambassador for Racial Justice cohort.

Violeta, a Brooklyn native, earned her Master of Social Work from Columbia University. Since graduating, Violeta has worked at The Bronx Defenders (BxD). She began her time at BxD as a Social Worker in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) within the Immigration Practice where she assisted detained immigrants as they navigated their cases.

Two years later, Violeta became the Equity and Institutional Transformation Associate where she assisted in establishing workshops, resources and structural change. Violeta is now the Manager of the Equity and Institutional Transformation department.