“Before I went to law school, I worked at a Women in Prison Legal Project, studying the legal needs of incarcerated women, which solidified my desire to use the law to protect people’s civil rights. After I graduated, I found a job at Burnham, Hines, & Dilday, the first law firm east of the Mississippi founded solely by black women, where I had the opportunity to dig into issues at the crossroads of racial and economic justice — chiefly police misconduct, housing discrimination, and employment discrimination. I also started teaching part time at Northeastern. Eventually my husband (who’s also a professor) and I relocated to Cleveland to teach at Case Western. I later taught at Cleveland Marshall Law School.
Cleveland was the epicenter of predatory lending. I was seeing signs in predominantly black neighborhoods saying, ‘Homes For Sale Cheap,’ ‘No Credit, No Problem,’ and there was a huge uptick in foreclosures. I started to investigate why these predatory home loans were being made, which led me into the morass of securitization and the problematic incentives it created in the mortgage market — essentially ‘passing the trash’ from broker and lender to investment banks to trusts and then creating mortgage-backed bonds. That’s when I started to see consumer protection as a civil rights issue, and I realized I couldn’t just stand by while these companies were profiting by exploiting black communities. I began writing articles about the structure of mortgage financing and how it was being used to generate huge profits for the financial industry by luring people into loans they could not afford.
Although I became a full-time academic, I never stopped being an advocate. I joined the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) of the CFPB in 2018, and my colleagues and I had to fight hard to keep the Trump administration from running roughshod over the Bureau — and over consumers as a result. During Mick Mulvaney’s tenure, he essentially used the Request for Information process to invite industry to identify consumer protections they wanted to see gutted. Mulvaney also fired the entire CAB. In both of those cases, we were able to rally support from multiple sources — NCLC, other pro-consumer organizations, academics, and the media — to prevent some of the worst potential outcomes.
There’s still much work to be done, both at the federal level and in communities like Cleveland. The more committed, bold young lawyers and advocates we can bring into the consumer bar, the closer we’ll be to an economic system that doesn’t exploit the most vulnerable people in our country.”