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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 58: Tracey Brame

Tracey Brame
Tracey Brame

Tracey Brame joins Jennifer Moss on this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

Tracey Brame has a servant’s heart. She puts her heart and her legal mind to work daily as a professor at WMU-Cooley Law School where she is an associate dean and professor. She has also taken on the additional responsibility in the role of director for the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. The school’s organization has been responsible for the exoneration of five men. Meet Tracey Brame, today’s guest on Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world. Transforming who we are and how we live.


Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone. It's time for powerful women. Let's talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss. It is a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman Tracy Brame. She is the associate dean and professor at Cooley law school. Tracy came to Cooley law School in 2006. She was formally a staff attorney at the legal aid of Western Michigan there. She advised and represented low-income clients on family law, housing and consumer law issues. She collaborated with other programs to address legal issues faced by ex-offenders reentering the community and she also translated for Spanish speaking clients. Of course, that's got powerful woman written all over it. Tracy, thanks so much for joining us on powerful women. Let's talk today.

Tracey Brame: Thank you so much for happen and happy to be here.

Jennifer Moss: So, Tracey I just kind of scratched the surface where we're going to dive a little more into what you do at Cooley law School in just a moment. But first I want to, you have a long list of accomplishments in your locker. I want to mention a few more. So previously professor, Brame served as a staff attorney for public defender services for the District of Columbia. Also as a research and writing specialist with the federal defender office. You served as an adjunct professor at Grand Rapids Community College and that’s just looking at a couple of your accomplishments. No small to do. You were named Michigan lawyers weekly 2020 lawyer of the year. And you've also served as the president of the Grand Rapids bar Association. So you’ve accomplished a lot for someone so young and you're still on the move. So welcome. Again, we're going to start the conversation with what got you into law. You are actually going to pursue journalism initially.

Tracey Brame: Absolutely. So, whenever I come to the studio I get a little jealous because that was my initial passion. I was going to go into sports casting. I absolutely love sports, still do if I ever have a 3rd career it will be on the sidelines of maybe the NFL.

Jennifer Moss: That might be it right.

Tracey Brame: Right. But I also had a passion of advocacy and it really began when I was a kid, my mom would tell you even when I was a kid, a lot of kids talk too much, I was one of them. But I spoke a lot about what I thought my rights were. And so I you know, at 9 or 10 years old. I was out protesting my allowance because I wasn't getting enough allowance and

Jennifer Moss: So, you had picket signs

Tracey Brame: Yeah.

Jennifer Moss: protesting your mother

Tracey Brame: Haha one could imagine that didn't go over so well. But at the time, but it did spark something right. And took me into this notion of using the platforms that we have to stand up right for folks who need a voice. And so that was always a part of me as well. So when I graduated from high school and went to college I ended up majoring in political science instead of journalism and the first constitutional law class I took. I was hooked and said I want to.

Jennifer Moss: The rest, as they say, is history, right. So you are currently the associate dean of experiential and practice preparation at Cooley as well as the director of the law, school's access to justice clinic, which of course provides legal representation to those seeking to expunge their criminal convictions. And that's been in the news a lot lately about expungement. You're also the director of the law school's innocence project which is a part of the innocence network. And of course, this provides legal assistance to individuals who are in prison for crimes they did not commit. And this is very important work. What is that like working to prove the innocence for those who basically, you know, are innocent as part of this project.

Tracey Brame: Right. So this work has really brought me full circle. I started my legal career as an appellate public defender working on appeals were for folks who are incarcerated and that kind of come full circle. And I began as director of the innocence project this past January and it's a wonderful program that was started 20 years ago. Actually 20 years old this year

Jennifer Moss: congrats

Tracey Brame: Students and staff work together to explore claims of innocence that are that are brought by inmates here in Michigan and it is phenomenal work. Very emotional work as you can imagine. You know, working with folks who have been incarcerated often times for years, even decades for crimes they didn't commit. It takes years to unravel some of these cases. And you know, we find that they are so many factors that go into wrongful convictions from, you know, governmental police misconduct, to mistaken identity, to false confessions. But they all kind of bleed down that same road to, you know, someone serving time that they shouldn't be. So, we've been very fortunate over the years to have facilitated the exonerations for several people and lately. We have entered into partnerships with the Wayne County prosecutor's office and the state attorney general's office state who also has a conviction integrity unit. So now actually working together with a couple of prosecutor's office to, you know, even grease those wheels a little bit more in and try to, you know, speed up the process of finding the folks who shouldn’t be there and get them out.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. It's amazing. Working again. You work, Cooley has offices Obviously here in Grand Rapids, but also in Lansing. Do you Kind of work between the two?

Tracey Brame: So, we actually just closed our campus here in Grand Rapids at the end of August of 2021. So just this past month. And so now our campuses data is between Lansing and Tampa Bay. And so I commute from Grand Rapids to Lansing to work with the innocence project down.

Jennifer Moss: So okay. Wonderful. So, as we talk about powerful women, have there been any barriers that you have encountered as you traveled along your careers path. So many of us can point back and look back too different things that, you know, maybe try to stop us on our journey. But we had to keep moving.

Tracey Brame: You know when I try to think of something specific. I often tell my students, I was incredibly fortunate. Right. And so sometimes I know that people look at me and say, well, if you can do it, why can't you know, why other folks struggling or why isn’t this the case for everyone. And I talk about, you know, I can certainly look back at barriers here and there. But more so I see these opportunities that were placed in front of me along the way ahead for them and parents who can notice my curiosity early on and made many sacrifices in order to send me to school. I was first generation law school. You know, they did whatever they could to help make that happen. I landed at the public defender's office. I was able to go work in Washington, DC and I have been very fortunate that I have been able to turn my passion for advocacy right into a very fulfilling career. That is not only hopefully help the people that I've served, but also given me opportunities right to do very good work. So you know what? I think along the way of things that were placed in my way. Certainly, you know, they were microaggressions along the way subtle questions of competence of things like that that come along with being a person of color, or woman of color, you know, in a profession like law. But I have to say that I have been that the people W. M Cooley have just been phenomenal. I have earned their respect early on and you know that that they have. just been incredibly supportive of my work at the school, and the community.

Jennifer Moss: You know, that's encouraging to note because when we talk about barriers a lot of women do face them and we want to put them out there and talk to let people know that they can overcome them. But it's also good to know you can take the blessings that have been given you along the way and also not have those barriers or not. If they're there. But you kind of still managed to move around like the microaggressions, things like that. Some people let them stop them. And you just have to get moving.

Tracey Brame: And again, I was surrounded a part of that is. Personality. I guess it just, you know, kind of this, you know, some hopeful optimist, but also very supportive people around me. So what I've tried to do over the years is not take that for granted that have been able to succeed but to try to help others along as well. Right. By, you know, tried to show others that is possible and help them get there. so that I'm not one of the few or one of the only, but that, you know, maybe the first of many.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely on our roads, our journey in life as we strive to move forward and many women have said that takes a while to get there. We do face those obstacles and challenges sometimes. But so for our listeners, what has it taken for you to become comfortable in your own skin. Kind of the find your voice because it you do have to have that voice because you're speaking for others as well, but also for yourself as a woman, as a business person, you know, mother. What has it taken to find that voice?

Tracey Brame: Age in part and a little gray hair, right. Interestingly, I find myself at middle age comfortable in my own skin as I've ever been. Right. So despite the fact that always felt like a past support around me. You have suffered for that. That those same notions of imposter syndrome. Those same questions about whether I deserve this or that or, you know, questioning my own perspective. But it really has been experience and have to say I heard Michelle Obama say this in some iteration several years ago. I think she's absolutely right. The more in rooms, right with other people. People at the rooms that I thought were it pie in the sky for me and the more I’m entering those rooms. I'm like, oh, yeah. I Can do this. Right. I belong here, but it's but it's taken age and experience. And again, along the way. People reminding me, right. You know, you heard that right. You know, encouraging me, you've earned every bit of it at the one of the dynamics. Again, that comes along with being a person of color, a profession like this particular coming along at the time that I did. I talked about those subtle questions of confidence. And and you know, sometimes about the implications that you're here because it needed a black woman in this body, you’re here because you know, and it's hard not to internalize those things. You know, to me along the way. But you know, I think is that as of press through. And again, you know, kind of been at the table with diverse groups of people make. Yeah, I could do this right.

Jennifer Moss: Like this is and your work has proven out. So there you go. You know, and you do belong at the table.

Tracey Brame: Right. You have to receive that you have to receive that it's taken me a while. So I hope that, you know, I now at middle age happy to have enough energy to live in that space up for a little while longer because I feel again as free and confident as I probably as I ever have.

Jennifer Moss: Wonderful. So as you head up many areas there at the Cooley law school. You surely work with a lot of people. What are some of the leadership traits that you like to see in those you work with.

Tracey Brame: So I in my opinion, some of the most I believe in servant leadership. So I think that, you know, leadership from a standpoint of service, of trying to leave better, right. The space that you're working in. I think that a good leader is a great listener. So I appreciate those leaders around me that really could hear people. But show people that they're listening. Someone who is decisive, though as well. And again, that's something that I've had to grow into in different leadership roles, right kind of gain that confidence to be able to listen to evaluate. But not be afraid to make a hard decision, right. And then be able to kind of take the inevitable push back, right. Because the higher up the ladder you go that the tougher and more divisive he decisions that you're making. And so you have to have a level of empathy, you know, kind of sympathy and I'm listening, coupled with the confidence to take that and make the best decision that you can

Jennifer Moss: So many women deal with the daily pressures of getting it all done. We've all been there. How do you manage it all and you do have young kids and you are very busy clearly, and, commuting.

Tracey Brame: Right.

Jennifer Moss: how do you do it all

Tracey Brame: You know, Jenifer as I look back at each stage of parenting in particular I go how in the world did I do that. I remember sitting under my desk breastfeeding right as I was a professor many years ago. And you know, my kids that are teenagers now I have to say I don't know l will know in a couple years when I know whether I done it well. But again, I want to just emphasize how fortunate that I’ve been because not everybody is this fortunate I entered into academia when my first child was born and that allowed me a schedule, right. That is very busy but is on my own time. I have been able to fashion my work life around my home life, which is a luxury.

Jennifer Moss: It’s much more accommodating.

Tracey Brame: Exactly. Much more accommodating something that everybody is able to do so. And it is a double-edged sword because on the one hand and made it, you know, I was able to do much more at home with my kids. But on the other hand. I was able to do much more with them so I was able to go on field trips and all those kind of things, which is nice. But there are times that I probably stretch myself, too thinly over the years I again had to grow into this confidence to kind of say to my husband I need help, you know, with this or actually say no, I can't do that, right.

Jennifer Moss: That's the big word right there N-O and being able to release yourself and not feel guilty because you can't make this dinner of the speech engagement or whatever that one word.

Tracey Brame: And making those evaluations along the way of kind of what's more important at the time. A colleague of mine Christine church told me years ago. She said when you when there's a conflict between something going on with the children and going to work ask yourself 5 years from now. Which one is going to matter more? And she says sometimes it's going to be the kid thing. And sometimes its going to be the work thing. And if you can't pick one you’re going to have] to try your best and then you got to leave it right. You know, and I have a daughter who gives me a hard time every time I don't pick the kid thing. But I have to make the best evaluation at the time. And so far has worked out OK,

Jennifer Moss: So easy breezy question. One of my favorite things. So laughter is good for the soul. Of course. What is it that makes you laugh what gives you a good laugh? because we all need to

Tracey Brame: Right I love silly irreverent shows and movies. So I just love. So, you know, the work I do is pretty heavy, working with people. convicted of horrible crimes etc. So I love to come home. Watch the unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt or Seinfeld reruns or, you know, to rewatch, you know, a movie for the umpteenth time that I love. You have to watch love in basketball for the you know, so I love kind of escapism TV and movies and things like that.

Jennifer Moss: Makes it easier. Some days you can just veg for just a moment. You don’t get to do it all day. Or many days, maybe one day and you appreciate it so much

Tracey Brame: Yes

Jennifer Moss: So, so much is happening in the world in which we live in today and people are often looking for a word of encouragement, which is one of our models at a powerful women to encourage and inspire other women and others. Everyone really. Do you by chance have a favorite saying or a motto that you used to encourage yourself and perhaps others.

Tracey Brame: I do, actually. So every single morning I try to rouse my 13 year-old and she goes “ugh, I got to go to school”. And I tell her every time to get up because remember, this is what day? This is the day the Lord made and were going to do what? Rejoice. So, every morning, no matter how I'm feeling, right. I remember that I should not take this day for granted that it is the day that the Lord has made. And I shall rejoice not I should, or I might, but I shall. And I try to start the day with that attitude and it helps right. It doesn't, you know, doesn't mean the day is always going to go smoothly. But it means that I will start out with the attitude I need to fix whatever

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely good word for the day. Tracey Brane I really enjoyed this conversation. So nice to talk to you.

Tracey Brame: Thank you again so much for having me. Nice to talk to you.

Jennifer Moss: And a big thanks to you our listeners for joining us for another edition of powerful women. Let's talk. I'm Jennifer Moss. Enjoy the day.


Produced by women about Women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk to additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe. Powerful women. Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Myer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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