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How One Paralegal Overcame Tremendous Obstacles to be Recognized and for Extraordinary Efforts.
Domestic or intimate partner violence may be one of the most widespread criminal offenses in America. Yet it is consistently one of the least reported. Although most abuse victims are female, there is no typical victim. Domestic violence affects people of all ages, races, religions, income and education levels. Although a lack of reporting makes statistics hard to gather, a 2008 study conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that about 35% of women who go to emergency rooms are thought to be victims of abuse. The study also concluded that 1 out of 3 women murdered in this country are victims of domestic violence. That’s an alarming figure. Now imagine what domestic violence looks like through the eyes of a child.
Meet Ms. Glenda Cook. Glenda is a remarkable woman that has taken the traumatic and terrorizing experiences that she lived through as a child and turned them into something good to help so many others in need. As a child, Glenda recalls how she and her siblings would listen helplessly at screams from her mother in another room. They knew that her stepfather was beating their mother again and just waited for the screams to stop. The screams stopped the night Glenda actually witnessed her stepfather kicking her mother as she lay on the kitchen floor. Still feeling helpless, and now traumatized, Glenda called 911 but was petrified to the point that she could not utter a single word to the operator. Fortunately, the operator could hear Glenda’s mother’s screams and sent police right away. Today, Glenda’s mother is a healthy and happy survivor.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, and a single mother of a 7-year-old, Glenda is a 1993 graduate of The Academy of Court Reporting and Technology Paralegal Program in Southfield, Michigan. After graduating from paralegal school, Glenda interned at Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services and the Women’s Justice Center working in family law. It wasn’t long before her love for family law and serving her community was born. Unfortunately, as legal services projects were usually funded by grants, when the funds for the grant work were depleted, so was Glenda’s position. As a result, Glenda looked for more settled positions and ended up doing corporate work for a debt collection company in order to provide for her family.
It did not take long for Glenda to realize that she was not cut out for corporate work. Glenda did not enjoy taking people to court for money that she knew they did not have. Corporate work was not her niche, and after two years she found herself at the YWCA where she currently works in conjunction with the Detroit Police Department’s 12th Precinct Domestic Violence Unit, assisting countless victims of domestic violence in finding safety and shelter. Glenda also assists victims with court appearances and counseling on a daily basis.
Decades after the silent call to 911, the vision of her mother being beaten remains etched in the back of Glenda’s mind and is a driving force in her tireless efforts to assist victims of domestic violence. Glenda admits that her job is challenging on many levels, from long days, to trying to make things happen with limited resources. Currently there is only one women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence in the city and it only has 67 beds. Glenda explains, “In order to do this work, you need help, but I don’t like saying no, and I don’t like turning my victims down or rejecting them because they have already been through enough rejection and pain. So I have found a way in the community to build relationships and rapport with people that I know that I can go to that I can trust and I can depend on to assist the women that need help. If that means working a 12-hour day, then that means working a 12-hour day. If we don’t have space in the shelter, I can’t let them stay in a police station all night. That’s not right. So I work my network in the community and find a safe place for them to stay.”
I’m happy to report that this hero’s extraordinary efforts have not been overlooked. In recognition for her selfless service to her community, Allstate Insurance flew Glenda and her son to Atlanta, Georgia, for the weekend prior to the King holiday. On January 17, 2011, Glenda Cook was one of only four Americans to be recognized and receive the Allstate Insurance Annual “Give Back Day” Hero Award. The Hero Award was established to recognize and honor everyday people that transform into heroes that make a difference by giving back to the African American community.
When I asked her how it felt to receive an award in Dr. King’s honor, Glenda said,”I still haven’t come down yet. Being in Atlanta with the other heroes to interact with and just to feel their energy about how passionate they are about their different programs and projects, I was over the moon.” Glenda went on to tell me that since leaving Atlanta, she and the other award recipients remain in contact, networking, trying to figure out how they are going to bring their messages to the community and actually get people to listen.
Glenda’s message to her community is to “Always be willing to speak up and speak out.” Even after the national recognition, Glenda admits to being disappointed when she returned to Detroit that following Monday. She said that since her fight against domestic violence had made the front page of the Detroit Free Press and since she was interviewed by two local television stations, she just knew that once she returned to work that the phone would be ringing off the hook. To her surprise, there were no calls from victims or people wanting to join her in the campaign against domestic violence. Glenda went on to tell me that despite all of her efforts, domestic violence is still that subject no one really wants to talk about.
However, Glenda remains confident that the calls will come. In the meantime, Glenda will continue her work at the 12th Precinct and at Peggy’s Place, where she holds support group meetings for victims of domestic violence. Glenda will also continue to work diligently on growing the Diamonds in the Rough Program, a program which she founded to teach young girls about teen dating violence. According to Chesire County Assistant Prosecutor David Lauren, Glenda’s work is heroic because “without people like her, who are truly the angels in this field, where would the victims go? Who would they have to support them? Who would they have to turn to?”
According to Glenda, her training as a paralegal has proven to be invaluable throughout her professional career. While working in family law, Glenda drafted legal documents like divorce complaints and restraining orders with very little direction from any attorneys. She explained that “the 3rd Circuit Court teaches you how to be a really good paralegal because when I started out in ’93, I didn’t have anyone to hold my hand. They literally just threw me into it. There was no learning curve.” Whether it’s the attention to detail required to complete court forms, understanding how the laws work and how to stay current with the laws, or interacting with officers of the court and interviewing witnesses, Glenda credits her paralegal training for much of her career accomplishments to date.
I must admit, when I was first approached by Chere Estrin [Editor-in-Chief of KNOW Magazine] to do a story on heroes in the field, I thought to myself, “Where in the world would I find this Super Paralegal?” I looked around in the pool of peers and mentors that I have worked with throughout the course of my 22-year career. I came up with a list of people that I respected, admired, and even looked up to, but no one that I personally knew was really doing anything deemed heroic (at least not in public).
Next, I checked the dictionary and thesaurus and came across terms like “mythological,” “noble,” “conqueror” and “idol.” Not exactly what I had in mind. Apparently, when people hear the term “hero” they often think of some legendary, illustrious character that spends his or her days fighting villains. Others may think of a hero and envision someone in uniform, a soldier or fireman, risking it all to help a stranger. However, after learning about Ms. Glenda Cook, I’ve come to realize the true meaning of the term “hero.” Heroes are just ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
Taking images from terrorizing experiences of her childhood and developing an unbreakable spirit driven to serve and tirelessly fight for victims of domestic violence is, indeed, extraordinary. Glenda is a shining example of what it means to be a hero in the field. Her message for paralegals seeking to grow in their careers is simple: “Go with what your passion is. Go where your heart is because it is really hard to be successful with anything that you really do not like or you do not have a passion for. If you know that there’s a particular area of law that you love, I would say definitely stay with that. If you know that you love criminal justice, align yourself in a criminal justice field even if it’s not a paid position. If it makes you happy, go volunteer somewhere. Make sure you just keep that little flame alive in your heart for law because your success will depend on that. Those moments when you find yourself feeling like you can’t give anymore, you will find that you can continue because you love it so much, and that drive is what will keep you going when everyone else is ready to quit.”
Copyright 2011 KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals Reprints by permission only.