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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 Trailblazers

Ebony D. Wortham, JD, EMPA Candidate, MS/ODL ’11

Assistant District Attorney; Supervisor, Juvenile Unit, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Artistic portrait of Black female leader Ebony Wortham, JD“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.

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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.