Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Politics That Matter - Lucille Prater-Holliday

Lucille Prater Holliday on left
The seat for Magisterial District Judge is not flashy, sexy news.  It is, however, a political position which has the most direct impact on the lives of Black women and children.  

A Magisterial District Justice serves for six years.  The cases they primarily hear include: traffic violations, arraignments and preliminary hearings on greater misdemeanor and felony charges for higher courts, and minor civil suits not exceeding $12,000.  The smaller more frequent cases which many deem insignificant, but, can actually change futures, are truancy and landlord-tenant disputes. This position is the first gate to the school to prison pipeline.  And who stands at the gate has the power to change entire historical timelines.  

While everyone debates Bernie, Hilarious and the Repugnants, the real change agents are relegated to the back pages or quiet internet corners.    The quiet corners of the internet alway yields the most comprehensive information. It’s where you find the actual research reports and studies that click byte journals use to sensationalize information in order for it to become important enough for our nation’s most complacent skimmers and hashtaggers.   

This excellent piece by Sue Kerr over at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents is worth a read. 
However, the interview I found of Lucille Prater-Holliday on Urban Media Today by Nancy Hart makes a compelling case for support in Ms. Prater-Holliday's own words.  This interview brought home to me how very important it is that you care about this candidate.  This is the change Pittsburgh needs.  I reached out to Ms Hart and she allowed me to reprint the article in it’s entirety. 

If you aren’t from Pittsburgh, this is the kind of talk you need to be looking for in your local candidates.  

Lucille Prater-Holliday Interview with Nancy Hart, Urban Media Today
Lucille Prater-Holliday

Lucille Prater-Holliday is well-known to many in the 12th and 13th Wards where she has lived for most of her life. She also knows her community and most of its residents well, including her opponent in the race for Magisterial District Justice in those wards, Kevin E. Cooper, Jr.

In fact, when Kevin E. Cooper, Sr. who retired from the post in March, asked Holliday to sign an election petition, she did, thinking it was Senior who was running again. When she found differently she was surprised.

            That perceived deception, however, is only one of the reasons Prater-Holliday is running for the post herself on the Green Party ticket.

            “We need change,” Prater-Holliday says. “There hasn’t been a woman in that seat for over thirty years. We need more women elected officials, particularly African-American women elected officials. And we need to remove nepotism and favoritism from local government.”

            “In the 12th and 13th Wards, the majority of the population is single female heads of household,” says the candidate. “They need someone to look up to, and to work to emulate. They need a woman who understands what they have been through, and has lived some of the same life experiences they have.”

            Prater-Holliday spent 10 of the earliest years of her life in foster care. 

            “I lived in poverty after I came out of foster care to live with my mother and my nine siblings,” she says. “She was a single parent. We lived here in Homewood, in some of the worst poverty, because she didn’t even have a high-school diploma. It was hard for her to find work, but the income couldn’t sustain a family of 10 children.”

            Prater-Holliday herself became a widowed single mother at the age of 34 upon the death of her husband, leaving her with nine- and ten-year-old sons. 

            “I’ve lived in public housing. I’ve received food stamps and welfare. I’ve received the benefits, but I didn’t live off of them, I used them to fill the gap,” she says. “After my husband died, I knew I had to take care of my children. I wanted to break that cycle of poverty, and I wanted them to have a better life.”

            Prater-Holliday went to college to earn her Associate’s Degree in Social Work while working full-time and raising her children. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management from Geneva College.

            “I knew I had to work hard to change that poverty that had gone on in my family for so long, and still exists in my extended family,” Prater-Holliday says. “I think that is what a lot of these young single mothers need to have: Someone they can relate to. When they come into the courtroom, everyone should feel comfortable, and know they are going to be heard and listened to, especially the children.”

            Prater-Holliday cites her experience as a Truancy Prevention Counselor as essential in helping families deal with citations for truancy, a major component of hearing held in the 12th and 13th Ward courts.

            “Once a truancy is reported by the school, they have to go to the magistrate,” Prater-Holliday says. “When they come into the office, it shouldn’t be an intimidating environment. And, wherever possible, they should be referred to appropriate programs and services that can help them improve the situation.”

            Prater-Holliday also adds that, based on her own experience, a number of children who are accused of truancy are not actually truant, but rather, just not in the homeroom when roll is taken. Some older students are responsible for making sure younger siblings make it to their own schools, or have other responsibilities that make them tardy.

            “In these communities, those are very valid reasons for being late or for missing school,” Prater-Holliday says. “They aren’t missing school for days, they just aren’t in the place where roll is taken.”

            Other parents, particularly single mothers, feel powerless to compel their older children to attend school. Using her own son as an example, Prater-Holliday says that, at 15, he was bigger than she. Theoretically speaking, “If he said he wasn’t going to school, what am I supposed to do?”

            “If a parent comes to the magistrate and is slapped with a $300 fine because that child is not going to school, you have exacerbated that situation and haven’t done anything to change it,” Prater-Holliday says. “If you are going to give them the fine, then refer that mother to the services she needs to help her child understand the importance of going to school, and help her understand the importance of getting an education.”
Lucille Prater - Holliday, Athena Awards

            “We have to start pointing people in a different direction, and have to provide them with  the resources they need to be successful,” Prater-Holliday says.  “Poverty should not be a life-long or generational condition. It shouldn’t even exist, but where it does, we need to work to lift people up out of poverty.”

            Prater-Holliday says “we have elections every year, and we elect people to office, and things don’t change. We have to prevent this. What can we do for our children early on to prevent them from going out there and hurting other people?”

            “We have to stop this school-to-prison pipeline, because that pipe is filled with poor African-American children,” she says.

            Landlord-tenant cases are also nothing new to the candidate.

            “I am a nationally-certified Public Housing Manager, and I have experience managing properties and with landlord-tenant cases,” Prater-Holliday says. “We have to look at those cases on an individual basis, because we have some of the poorest-quality housing in the City. We have to hold landlords accountable, and we have to hold residents accountable.”

            Prater-Holliday says that many residents in the wards don’t know what their rights are, and that educating them should be part of the responsibility of the office.

            “They don’t know that they can go to the magistrate and file a complaint against their landlord,” she says. “A lot of residents believe that if they do file a complaint, they can be evicted. They need to know that that is not how it works, that there are laws against that and that they have rights. Knowledge is how you empower people.”

            The term of office for a Magisterial District Justice is six years. In addition to summary offenses, traffic violations, landlord-tenant disputes and arraignments and preliminary hearings on greater misdemeanor and felony charges for higher courts, they also hear minor civil suits not exceeding $12,000.

            Prater-Holliday thinks a program which adjudicates youth to community service at local businesses would be an excellent way to create change.

            “Send them to where they can learn something. Don’t just penalize them and send them back out there,” she says. “That doesn’t change anything, it just keeps things the same.”

            Prater-Holliday went to Baxter Elementary, and graduated from Westinghouse High School. She has lived in Pittsburgh her entire life, most of it in Homewood. Her sons, now 34 and 33, still live in the area.

            “They followed in my footsteps. They both have social work backgrounds, and they both work with kids. I told them early on, ‘look, you are not going to make a lot of money, but you have the opportunity to change the world,” Prater-Holliday says. “I am very proud of them, because they have both turned out to be very fine gentlemen. And I have three grandsons. I am glad I have all men around.”

            Prater-Holliday says that her “whole background has been in social services: I have worked with male juvenile offenders, truant children, senior citizens, I have worked in low-income housing, so I have worked with practically every population there is. I am familiar with the issues people have to deal with, and am very familiar with the criminal justice system.”

            She has worked with ACORN-Pittsburgh, and ACORN-Pennsylvania, then helped to start Action United. In 1997, she founded the Black Women’s Empowerment Agency to empower women to be catalysts for change in their own lives as well as those of others.

            Prater-Holliday was the first African-American woman to be elected as the Chair of the Wilkinsburg Civil Service Commission, and “I provided a 95 percent success rate of cases upheld by the Common Pleas Court. I don’t make rash decisions, because these are people’s lives.”

            She is also one of five finalists for an Athena Award, to be given October 9, recognizing her work to empower other women while showing excellence in her personal and work life.

            Prater-Holliday started to work toward a law degree, but “had to watch out for my kids, so there are some things I put off. And then there are student loans…”

            Because she has not earned a law degree, Prater-Holliday would be required to take certification classes if elected. After one month of classroom instruction, students are given a test which they must pass, and for which they are allowed only one “re-take.” Failure on both opportunities means the class must be retaken, and is only offered twice yearly. Those who are not certified can still take the bench and make enforceable decisions, but would not earn the $88,290 salary.

            Prater-Holliday could have earned the certification prior to running for the post, but did not, because “I didn’t have the need to. I have heard the test is very difficult, but that was from people who have always had difficulty with academics.”

            Her opponent, Kevin E. Cooper, has already been certified, but Prater-Holliday says she feels there was nepotism involved. 

            “I don’t think that’s fair to the constituents. Those seats are not bequeathed to the next family member,” Prater-Holliday says. “The deck is already stacked against you if that is the case, and women really don’t have a chance.”

            “The magistrate should know the population they are dealing with. You need to understand the people because you have lived their life,” Prater-Holliday says, noting that one who has not lived in the neighborhood is more likely to make decisions biased by a lack of knowledge or experience. “If you understand the population you are dealing with, have lived their lives, you are more likely to make a fair decision. You have to live ‘in’ the community, dealing with the people who are likely to show up at the office.”

            “I am the ninth of ten children, and I am the first to graduate from college, and that is because other women, particularly African-American women, embraced me and empowered me, and connected me to resources that I needed to become successful,” Prater-Holliday says. “Had it not been for these other women in my life, I would never have been able to empower others.”

            “People came into my life and protected me, and I think that’s what we need to do for everybody, but especially women, because we are the nurturers and caregivers,” Prater-Holliday says. “We need to save our children.”


Lucille Prater-Holliday said...

Christina, this is fabulous! Thank you so much for expressing the importance of supporting qualified local candidates!

Ramona Jones said...

Excellent read! The district could benefit from a woman with the integrity and tenacity of Lucille Prater-Holiday! I salute you on your political journey to bring a fresh approach to our crippled judicial system!