Black Female Lawyers Matter

Attorney Nisha G. Williams pictured standing in front of the Granville County, North Carolina Courthouse.

Black female attorneys make up on 3% of the total attorney population. We are undervalued, underpaid & overworked. We provide the nuance of intersectionality through the wisdom of our life’s experiences. In the midst of the pandemic I have continued to go to court to represent clients in need of civil restraining orders from their abusers. This year I celebrate my 11th year as a licensed NC attorney. I remain thankful and humble to have this honor to represent folks as their legal advocate in a courtroom. #blacklawyersmatter #blackladycourtroom #attorneynisha#thatfancylife

Mommy Please

19 year old Nisha holding premature baby Louis at the Erlanger NICU Hospital on July 8, 2003.

A tear slid slowly down my face as the doctor’s words rang in my ears like a blaring train whistle. “We have to deliver your baby today. He is not producing enough amniotic fluid to sustain himself in your uterus.” The doctors had no idea why my baby’s amniotic fluid level was so low, so the only option was early delivery. My body trembled with fear as I realized the enormity of having a baby one month early. However, in spite of the turmoil that reigned in my mind, I softly replied, “Do I have a choice?”

I was scared. I was not prepared to give birth. My husband was at work, my entire family was in another state, and my first Lamaze class was scheduled for the next day. However, I heeded to my doctor’s orders. He said, “If you want your baby to live, we have to do this now.”

It’s an unbelievably lonely feeling walking into a hospital without anyone by your side. I felt like a science experiment as I lay on the hospital bed with an endless number of wires attached to my stomach. Doctors and nurses flowed steadily in and out of my room, checking and double checking on me; however, there were still no family or friends. 

As an idealistic young woman, I had always envisioned childbirth as a joyous event. I imagined being surrounded by family and friends from start to finish. I also believed the pain would be lessened through the companionship of my loved one, and most importantly I dreamed of taking home, two days later, a healthy baby boy. However, this childbirth would not follow my dream, instead key family members were absent and my baby’s premature birth required an extended stay.

Mommy, please

After two hours of waiting by myself, friends began to visit me. Although they were not my best friends, I readily accepted their company; however, the person I longed to see the most was my mother. For months my mother and I had planned that she, my sister, and my mother-in-law, Dorothy, would drop everything and rush from North Carolina to Tennessee when I went into labor. 

Then, with one heartbreaking call, all of our plans were shattered. Two hours after being admitted, my mom called and told me that my coldhearted stepfather, taken by caprice, didn’t think she needed to leave right away. He decided that she would wait until the weekend to see me. Apparently her obedience to my stepfather was far more important than the birth of her first grandchild. 

I begged her to come, but the best she could do was pay for a bus ticket for my mother-in-law. She said “at least Dorothy would be there.” I continued to push and plead with her, “Mommy, please, I need you.” But the answer was still a tearful no. My mother was my anchor, and suddenly without her, I felt like I was all alone, drifting in an ocean by myself. 

Once again, I was heartbroken. I was watching my dream of the perfect childbirth slip away right in front of me, and I had no control over it. Not only did I have to give birth early, but now my mother was not going to be present. One kind nurse, Angela, saw my tears and told me, “Don’t worry; everything will work out.” While in the face of utter loneliness and sorrow, her thoughtful words brought me a brief moment of solace. She was right. This was not about my mother because I was about to bring a precious new life into the world. 

Later that afternoon my husband, Willie, arrived at the hospital. His presence brought me peace. He sat beside me and held my hand. He was my rock in the midst of my storm.  

Stop Screaming

Because I was having a baby one month early, my body was not ready for delivery, so I had to be induced. On the first day, I was given Pitocin, an inducing agent that thins the wall of the cervix. This was not painful, but when the doctor broke my water at four the next morning my body immediately began to ache. Although my husband strongly disagreed with my new decision, he still stood by my side. 

At four in the afternoon, I went into hard labor. The hospital staff quickly sprang into action. The delivery room felt like a subway car during rush hour. Because I was about to have a premature baby, there were about four doctors and five nurses helping with the delivery. This chaos only made me more anxious. 

As the doctors told me to start pushing, I began to panic. I had no idea of what to do. As I pushed, I screamed in pain. However, I was shocked to hear the nurse firmly say, “Stop screaming, it’s using up your energy.” I couldn’t believe that she had the audacity to tell me how to handle my pain. But after twenty-four minutes of strenuous pushing, a tiny, weak five pound baby boy named Louis entered the world. 

Lessons Learned

After Louis was born, he was quickly rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I longed to see my son but was prohibited until my son became stabilized after his arrival. It wasn’t until after midnight, eight hours after I gave birth, that I was able to hold my son. 

My eyes swelled as Louis shyly gazed into my eyes. He was as fragile as a porcelain doll. I was terrified of holding him. I feared that my soft grip would break his tiny bones. Although Louis was small, he was still strong and stubborn. The NICU nurses laughed as they recalled how Louis constantly ripped his feeding tubes off. His strength and resilience gave me the courage I needed to leave the hospital without him since the doctors would not release him until he was eating and maintaining his weight. This process took two weeks. 

On July 24, 2003, I welcomed my son home. My childbirth experience was not the fairy tale I expected—I gave birth one month ahead of schedule, my mother was absent, and Louis remained in the hospital two weeks too long.

Despite the grim events surrounding Louis’s birth, I learned that childbirth is a selfless act. This experience was not about my fairy tale but about Louis’ arrival. As I watched Louis quietly sleeping in his bassinet, I softly whispered a prayer. “Thank you, Lord, for bringing Louis into my life.”

Nisha Williams, age 35 hugging her 16 yr old son Louis both smiling.

Written October 24, 2005 for writing course in college.

Pretty Hurts: The Generational Impact of Colorism & Obseity.

Today I received an apology I was not expecting. I could hear her voice crack as she said those much needed words “I am sorry.”

Now you must be wondering what did she do? What was wrong?

Today my mom and I talked to each other about our weight and why each of us continues to struggle with our weight today. My mom is 6o years old and is overweight. I am her oldest child and am 36 years old and am currently obese. We are both in individual therapy working on making ourselves better people.

My mom shared with me her reasoning for why she struggles with weight. It rested in her value of herself. Growing up in a house full of light skinned siblings and parents, she was the one dark skinned girl. She believed she was the ugly one. She vividly remembers her family members referring to her “neg” short for negro. She remembers family naming her light skinned sisters as beautiful and naming her as lazy. During her teen years she resolved that she would not live up to the stereotype of “lazy” and worked diligently to become successful which she in fact did. But as she became more and more successful she still felt this unnerving feeling that no matter how successful she was she would never be beautiful because of her darker complexion.

Gloria Benoit, pre all the babies.

My mom has 4 children. At the time she got pregnant with me she was 5’5″ and 140lbs. At my birth she weighed 160lbs. She was able to lose the weight but within 2 years gave birth to my sister and settled on 160lbs. 2 years later she gave birth to my brother and gained 20 lbs and weighed 180lbs. 3 years later she gave birth to her last child and weighed 200 lbs. The baby weight that she gained within a 8 year period drastically impacted her self-worth. Food was her secret friend. The friend that she could soothe her in hard times. Despite her financial success, she still felt not worthy. Somehow food gave her the validation she sought from others.

Gloria (mom), Nisha, Reyad, Sally. Our first family portrait after moving from Trinidad to NYC.

My grandmother was also obese and struggled with her relationship with food. My grandmother was the mother of 8 children and lived with a raging alcoholic for decades. My grandmother continued the legacy of shaming fat women even though she herself was fat. This belief that fat was not beautiful was not a creation of my mother but was passed down to her from her mother and subsequently passed down to me. My love for my grandmother knew no bounds which may also be why I too latched on to her fat shaming ideology.

My mother as a child pictured with her mother, Florence Benoit holding a new baby sibling.

My grandfather, Carlton Benoit pictured with his 8 children in Trinidad. Cynthia, Gloria, Sharon, Junior, Clary, Claudette, Robert, Carl. My mom Gloria, is in the white shirt in the middle of the picture taken in 2009 after my grandmother’s death.

Now at age 60 my mother is fully coming to terms with how she used food to self soothe her anxieties of feeling less than.

The dred that came with living with dark skin carried into her pregnancy with me when she was 25 years old. She a black woman from Trinidad had 3 children with an Indian man from Trinidad. She said that when I was born I was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. When she said it it sounds like an exaggeration but to this day she firmly believes it. The reason she found me so beautiful was because of my complexion. I was born very fair skinned. “You were a white baby, Nish. I actually thought many times that they gave me the wrong baby.” There was an unspoken weight lifted off her shoulders when she saw my fair skin. She was happy that she was able to bring into this world a beautiful “white” baby.

As I got older, my skin got darker and yet she still saw me as the most beautiful child she had. Throughout my childhood I was constantly affirmed by my mother and my extended family as beautiful. This heavy reliance on my beauty created confusion within my young soul. As a child I was socialized to believe my worth was directly proportional to how “beautiful” I was. Regardless of how smart I was, beauty was the standard to which my worth rested firmly on.

Nisha (me) holding my mother’s hand while she held my baby sister Sally in her arms.

I left for college a slim tall girl weighing 145lbs at 5’7″. Months later visiting my family at Thanksgiving dinner the conversations revolved around my weight which at the time was 155lbs. “Nisha done gained some weight.” My weight gain seemed to align with a seemingly decrease in my beauty. I held on to this in my soul. The week after I visited my family for Thanksgiving I learned that I was pregnant.

8 months later, at age 19, I gave birth to a 4lb 15oz baby boy named Louis. I was 180lbs. I vividly remember the depression that came with seeing my fat post baby belly. The conversations amongst my family began immediately – “Nisha what are you doing to lose the baby weight.” I could no longer fit into any of my pre baby clothes. Because I was only 19 I also had no idea that the post baby weight might linger around. Instead I focused on the celebrities who had babies around the same time as me who were able to lose the baby weight quickly. Why not me? I was devastated. Little did I know I was suffering from post partum depression. It was during that period that my relationship with food became toxic.

Food was my secret friend that was always there for me when I was in need. My mom and sister constantly nagging me about what I was eating and how much I was exercising led to me to keep food my secret. I couldn’t let them know how much I relied on my friend food. How when I was unhappy in my then marriage, it was food who comforted me. But as I ate I also gained weight. As I gained weight my beauty and subsequently my self worth drastically diminished. A year after giving birth I had gained an additional 30lbs and at age 20 I was 210 lbs. 200 was the ugly number. Size 16 and up was even uglier. As I gained weight I looked at myself and no longer saw a person of value.

Today in my conversation with my mom, I shared my stories with her. I told her how her constant pestering about my weight negatively impacted my view of myself. It also impacted my “why” for losing weight. For me losing weight was about appeasing and pleasing my family members and not for my own personal health or self-worth. I wanted to be affirmed again by my family and I could not find that in a plus size body.

Now that I’ve given this context, I bet you’re wondering how is this about colorism?

My black mother did not think she was beautiful because she was socialized to believe that her skin color was not beautiful. My birth and my “white-like” features finally validated her worth. She, dark-skinned Gloria, was actually able to make a light skinned baby. So much of my worth was inextricably connected to her worth. I was socialized within that value system. I had to be pretty and I had to maintain that beauty.

Growing up FAT was not seen as pretty. So as I blossomed into my womanhood as a fat woman I could no longer see beauty in me. I shared this with my mom.

There was silence on the phone. By this time we had been speaking for over an hour. She was at work and I could hear her whisper “Nish.” I could hear her voice crack and silence followed. Then she said “I’m sorry.”

She told me that I was always beautiful in her eyes. No matter what weight I was at, I was always in her eyes beautiful. She apologized for not making that more clear to me. and for displacing her personal childhood trauma on me.

I thanked her for hearing me and validating my emotions. I told her that I I recognize as an adult woman and a mother that this thing we call parenting can create insidious consequences on our children that we did not purposefully intend to create.

She and I together are working on breaking up this trauma that is our family history. It is not easy work but it is the work of her lifetime and my lifetime.

Meet Nisha G. Williams

Fancy meeting you.

There are so many things I could tell you about myself so I’ll start with who I am today.

Today I work as a staff attorney with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a staff attorney. During the work day I focus on advocating for domestic violence survivors in the courtroom as well as via trainings for domestic violence service providers throughout the state.

Since 2015 I have focused in particular on racial equity in our NC legal system. I’ve accomplished this by advocating for new methods of criminal justice via restorative justice. Advocating for racial equity training of NC attorneys, court personnel and county board members. Working inside and outside the juvenile justice system in Durham, NC via serving on Durham County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

At home I spend my days with my 16 year old son, Louis and my partner, Paul of 9 years.

My relationship with my son began when I found out I was pregnant at 18 years old. My parenting journey has shaped the woman I am today.

I hope to share with you more of who I am and how I find my balance in this chaotic existence we call life.

#zerotohero #thatfancylife #parenting #law

Nisha smiling in the sun.

The Unexpected Transition

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

Oscar Wilde

When I tell you this was a life changing time for me. One week after this photo was taken it was confirmed that I was pregnant at 18. I hadn’t even finished my first semester in college yet. I didn’t know what to do.

I was too ashamed and scared to tell my parents and I was too broke and too far away from any abortion clinic while living in Chattanooga,TN. Even though I was too broke to get an abortion I decided to have my child. I am pro choice regarding abortion because I believe ALL women should have RIGHT to decide to become a parent.

I made that decision to have Louis because I truly believed that I would never let any obstacle stop my from obtaining my goal to graduate college, law school and to become an attorney. 18 years have passed since the picture was taken of 18 year old me. I am not the same Nisha. I am a stronger, more patient, more understanding version of the person in this picture. So y’all say hey #teenfancy #thatfancylife #throwbackthursday

18 year old Nisha Williams smiling while holding her baby cousin Jewel Springer in 2002.

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