Black Female Lawyer: ‘Attorneys Are Either Social Engineers or Parasites’

She chooses to support marginalized communities of color through fierce advocacy

Lakeila R. Stemmons is a zealous advocate—exactly the kind of attorney you want on your side if you are ever pitted against the law. She is the principal and CEO of Stemmons Strategies, a DC-based firm providing strategy and policy consulting services to attorneys, business leaders, civil rights and social justice advocates, politicians, and professional athletes.

(Lakeila R. Stemmons. Image: Felicia Gray, BTH Artistry)

She began her career in St. Louis, where she worked as a tax and financial services attorney for a “Big 4” accounting firm. Yet, a passion for representing marginalized communities served as the catalyst for her departure from corporate law and in 2012 she became a regional Get Out to Vote director for Obama for America.

In addition to running Stemmons Strategies, where she focuses on myriad, compelling issues, including voting rights, social justice, healthcare advocacy, and economic development in distressed communities, Stemmons serves as a pro bono attorney for the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium where she represents veterans and VA claimants in their appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Black Enterprise caught up with the attorney at the Toronto Presidential Showcase featuring Rev. Jesse Jackson:

Economic equity and empowerment have always been a highly debated topic. How do you define it in the context of the African American community?

Economic equity and empowerment represent a commitment to advocate for the vision, values, policies, programs, institutional changes, collaborations, and resources that allow African Americans to compete effectively within the economic marketplace. The research is voluminous and clearly illustrates the unfortunate disparity vis-à-vis other communities. Our goal is to address it as comprehensively as possible.

As an attorney specializing in state and local tax incentives, what is your role in addressing this disparity?

The reality is that we need black attorneys to be present and engaged in every city where we are marginalized helping with this effort. I wholeheartedly believe that can be accomplished with focused advocacy in education, healthcare, employment law, contracts, and especially housing and real estate.

I am diligent in finding opportunities to educate our communities on topics central to realizing economic equity such as best business practices, financial administration, and accounting, and debt management. Ensuring our communities’ access to education, skills and training at all levels is also a top priority. Finding access to private investment capital and highlighting the stark differences in diversity and inclusion also frame this conversation. I recently had the opportunity to discuss voting rights, healthcare, jobs, and housing with interested stakeholders during the National Bar Association’s 92nd Annual Convention in Toronto, Canada, earlier this month.

Charles Hamilton Houston once noted that attorneys are either social engineers or parasites on society. I see myself as the former. This sentiment reminds me of my obligation to be on the ground helping to create these realities within the African American community so that our people can thrive and eventually achieve true economic parity.

Shed light on the way forward. What are one or two key strategies that can effectively move this agenda forward within the next five years?

Protecting the ballot box! Voting and relationship building—specifically coalition building and creating long-term strategic partnerships.