Stories From Black Female Leaders
Ebony D. Wortham, JD, EMPA candidate, MS/ODL ’11
Standing on her Shoulders: Celebrating Meta L. Christy, DO, and African American Alumnae
Ebony D. Wortham, JD, EMPA Candidate, MS/ODL ’11
Assistant District Attorney; Supervisor, Juvenile Unit, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“In Southwest Philadelphia, where I was born, we didn’t have a lot of structured activities.
So we took a broomstick and played stickball. We would break windows, because we were
playing in the middle of a residential street. That’s criminal mischief, by the way.
That’s in my crimes code book. We put a milk crate on a telephone pole to make a basketball
hoop. So the ball is out in the middle of the street, bouncing on the hoods of cars.
Now we’re congregating near the corner; that’s failure to disperse. These crimes are
all rooted in the conditions that exist naturally in disadvantaged communities. …
When I was nine, my parents scraped together everything they had to move us 15 to
20 minutes away, to Mount Airy, and that entirely changed the trajectory of my life.
That trajectory has also caused me to be a reformer, a change agent. … Mount Airy
was more like a campus, sprawling with trees and grass and playgrounds. The expectations
for kids were completely different. The conversations were around where we should
be developmentally. And in the old neighborhood, the conversations were centered around
survival. … There’s very little difference, if any, between the kids in these different
neighborhoods—it’s just opportunity. It’s structure, resources, having a community
that’s able to absorb adolescent behavior. The outcomes of your behaviors are going
to be reflective of what’s available to you in your environment. … I’m trying to reform
our juvenile justice system so that only the kids who really need to come into our
system end up here. Most of them can be diverted away from the justice system, diverted
to age-appropriate and child-appropriate structured activities so that they can continue
to develop the competencies they need to become productive and caring young adults.
… I’ve been doing a lot of work on the history of the juvenile justice system in this
nation. When it started in 1899 in Chicago, its purpose was to focus on the needs
of children, not their deeds. Given everything we know about adolescent brain development,
we understand that these are not adults, they are kids. When you’re 40, you wouldn’t
recognize who you were at 16 or 17. … I can bring my whole self to this work. I’m
striving to become the prosecutor that kids deserve. That’s the tagline on my email.
And it’s designed to raise the question: Do kids deserve prosecutors?”
as told to Janice Fisher
Standing on her Shoulders
Read more stories from African American female physicians, leaders and health professionals.
About Digest Magazine
Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine,
is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on
osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.