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Gideon’s Promise Founder Jonathan Rapping talks civil and human rights

Rapping_webJonathan Rapping
President/Founder, Gideon’s Promise
Associate Professor, John Marshall Law School (Atlanta, GA)

What inspires you to show up at work every day?
A strong belief that collectively we can change the world. I have the privilege of working with an amazing community of public defenders from across the county who are collectively committed to making the promise of equal justice a reality. They are this generation’s civil rights movement. Nowhere are greater civil rights abuses happening to poor people, and people of color, more than in our criminal justice system. These modern day civil rights workers are on the front lines of this battle. They work in systems that have come to accept an embarrassingly low standard of justice for poor people. Every day they fight to raise that standard. Working with heroes everyday can inspire you to do anything!

How did you determine your career path?
I was raised in a very socially conscious household. It was drummed into me from a young age that your career could not be divorced from what you are passionate about. I always had a strong sense of fighting against injustice so I became a public defender. However, I began my career in a system that worked well. Moving to the South and working in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama caused me to see public defense in a different light. It is a civil and human rights issue. It needs a movement. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a movement? So I gathered people I know who are equally committed and set out to build it.

Describe the future skill sets that are essential to future business leaders and innovators.
Vision. If an organization/system is already working well, it probably isn’t the best use of your energy. If it needs improvement, it needs leaders who can see well beyond the status quo. Culture is a powerful force. It shapes every organization. To change the culture, the leader must stay focused on a set of values that others in the system may have lost sight of.

Define innovative methods you apply to your business and life.
We don’t just work to teach our public defenders to be great lawyers; we teach and support them to be change agents. Through recruitment, training, and mentoring, we instill important values in our lawyers and help them to collectively forge a supportive community that will infuse broken justice systems with those values.

Describe goal setting methods you use and how you evaluate your success.
Our success is not defined by outcomes. Even when the system works well, bad things will happen to people you represent and care about. It is a system designed to punish — I learned that when I worked in a well-functioning system in Washington, DC. Our success is defined by our ability to afford our clients the process that the Constitution demands. When our lawyers care, when they are visiting clients and communicating effectively, when they are identifying and litigating legal issues, when they are investigating, when they are pushing against the system, when they serve as public defenders with pride … that is how we define success.

Who do you consider your peers in your field and a few that are great examples you can go to for support and best practices?
Too numerous to begin to name. I have the great fortune of being surrounded by defenders who exhibit best practices everyday.

Describe the voice of success that you hear in your head.
The jury saying, “Not Guilty.”
The client saying, “Thank You.”
The public defender saying, “I have the best job in the world.”
The judge or prosecutor saying, “Cancel my afternoon appointment; this is going to be a long day” whenever a zealous public defender walks into the courtroom.

How does music inspire you?
I love music and turn to it for inspiration regularly. I like music with a political message. I was raised on Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye. I am a big fan of socially conscious rap like Dead Prez. Music has always been a powerful component of any movement. It has the power to inspire people to our highest ideals. I have a lot of respect for artists who use their craft to bring about positive social change. I am equally frustrated when artists squander the opportunity to have a socially conscious impact.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
Honestly, I need to learn to relax. I am an intense person. It has helped me accomplish many things. But it is a burden on my family and the people I love.