Yohance Christie joined Civic Nebraska’s board of directors in June. A lifelong Lincolnite, Yohance is a graduate of U. Nebraska Law and is approaching 10 years as an assistant Lancaster County public defender. He is a strong advocate for the community, serving as a member of the NAACP Lincoln Chapter and past-president of the Inns of Court Lincoln Chapter. Yohance also is president-elect of the board of Family Service Lincoln and is on the board of the Lincoln Bar Association and the College of Law Dean’s Advisory Board. We recently sat down with Yohance to learn more about him.
Civic Nebraska: Thanks, Yohance, for taking time to chat. Your reputation as a servant leader precedes you, and we’re grateful you’ve chosen to share your leadership skills in helping to guide our organization.
Yohance Christie: Thanks. It’s been awesome. I started getting more involved in the community in law school, but my dad was a role model for community involvement for me at a very young age. So, I’ve been involved in the community doing different things over the years. My path has crossed with Civic Nebraska’s at different times. I’ve been a big supporter of the work. I knew early on that Civic Nebraska was fighting to make sure elections were fair and accessible, but it’s been interesting as time has gone on to learn about all of the innovative work it does.
Speaking of work, yours also must be interesting.
Well, I like being in the courtroom. And I like the aspect of my job that allows me to defend the downtrodden, and be a voice for the voiceless – you know, all those clichés that just happen to be true. Also, being from Lincoln, it’s very special to me to serve as a public defender in the town where I grew up. It’s challenging, but I feel that it’s important to show the other people in the courtroom that the person I represent is a person. What if we were all judged by the worst thing we ever did or the worst thing we ever said? Every day, I try to get that across.
How do you go about that?
Every case is different. But it’s often little things. For example, reminding everyone that this person has a name. I don’t represent “the defendant,” I represent a person. Other times, it’s a simple matter of being respectful and treating someone like a person, all the time. That can be helpful, especially if they’ve been in the system before and haven’t been treated with a lot of respect. That can go a long way for that person and for our community. One of the things people tend to forget is that in the criminal justice system the vast majority of people are going to transition back into our community someday.
That’s a great point. Civic Nebraska supports making it easier for former felons to vote upon successful completion of their sentences. We’ve also been to a number of re-entry fairs in the past year to explain how that kind of civic involvement can really help someone’s successful return to society.
For someone who is convicted of a felony, the chances are great that at some point they’re going to transition back into our community. And having the right to vote and participate in the political process, to help choose our elected leaders, is really encouraging and can be another factor to help people stay engaged, remain in the community, and prevent recidivism. I mean, if you’re treated like less than a citizen, then why wouldn’t you act like less than a citizen?
Is that kind of advocacy mindset what drew you to Civic Nebraska?
I’ve seen Civic Nebraska grow and, year after year, become more visible. Everything I read and saw about Civic Nebraska, I loved it. Early on, I thought it was such a unique and innovative organization and so I’ve always been interested in it. So when I was approached for this opportunity, it didn’t take a lot of convincing.
What excites you as you have had a deeper look at the organization?
How expansive the Civic Health component is. The idea of strengthening social connections and really getting into the community to make sure that everyone is involved in our democracy. I knew there was a lot going on at Civic Nebraska with this kind of work, but I wasn’t sure how to put it into words or how to define it. The phrase “civic health” brings that all together and makes it clear.
And, of course, youth civic leadership. Getting everyone more involved in the democratic process, and also showing young people how to be good leaders – to work within and to transform institutions – is something is that is so needed today. Helping our young people be better civic leaders is a nonpartisan thing. And it’s depending on the need of the community that you’re in. It’s awesome to have an organization here in Nebraska doing this kind of work, and I’m glad to do what I can to support it.