Brooklyn Boro

A peek behind the curtain: the fashion show reveals a tireless court employee

March 22, 2019 Hannah Grossman
While the focus is on the judges and court employees during the Brooklyn Supreme Court’s annual Black History Month Fashion Show, Leah Richardson is running around behind the scenes making sure that the event goes off each year without a hitch. Eagle photo by Hannah Grossman

The judges and top administrators get the attention of the public when it comes to the courts — but the reality is that nothing that happens inside Brooklyn Supreme Court without the tireless efforts of the people that work behind the scenes.

Leah Richardson is the embodiment of the behind-the-scenes people. Even her job title, systems engineer, leaves a lot to the imagination, but she is a woman who wears so many hats, and helps out in many noticeable and unnoticeable ways.

Her office wall offers evidence of a busy and fulfilling career. Her master’s degree in public administration hangs next to a certificate for completion of a course at the local police department. Nearby are recognitions for her work as a board member or award recipient of various court organizations that can’t be counted on 10 fingers. New York memorabilia sits on her desk alongside beside a mug that reads ‘Have a Purpose.’

The calendar on her wall, booked to the brim, offers a glimpse of how busy her work day can be.

In addition to her work as a member of the board of directors of Co-op City, she’s the vice president of the Tribune Society of the New York Courts, and it is expected that she will soon be the president. She also runs professional development workshop for the National Council of Negro Women.

That’s outside of the courthouse, though. Inside, she is often busy serving as an information technology person for the Kings County Supreme Court.

“Well you know what my passion is? I like helping people,” Richardson said. “So although you’re helping people with their computer issues, I like running programs. It doesn’t even matter what program it is. I just like helping people.”

Sometimes Leah Richardson (pictured right) gets enough time to pause and present someone with an award during the fashion show. In 2018, she and Justices Hon. Sylvia Ash (left) and Hon. Deborah Dowling (second from left) honored Izetta Johnson (pictured on poster) by inviting her son Ashley Johnson (second from right) to be recognized on behalf of his mother. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane
Sometimes Leah Richardson (pictured right) gets enough time to pause and present someone with an award during the fashion show. In 2018, she and Justices Hon. Sylvia Ash (left) and Hon. Deborah Dowling (second from left) honored Izetta Johnson (pictured on poster) by inviting her son Ashley Johnson (second from right) to be recognized on behalf of his mother. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

She is also a former IT worker at AT&T. Now as a city employee, she says she prefers working for the people as opposed to a private company.

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“You’re actually working with your citizens in some fashion,” Richardson said. “In private industries, you’re just trying to sell a product, but public government — you need it. One way or another, you’re going to eventually use it whether it will be the transit system, the highways, law, taxes. That’s all government stuff.”

African female-focused art hangs proudly in all directions, of her office and a poster memorializing Izetta Johnson, a former court employee known for handling many of the court’s programs, is hiding behind her door. It’s the same poster that was often on display throughout Black History Month including the “Fashion Show Extravaganza,” which Richardson is known for.

The annual fashion show, which takes place in the lobby and features judges and many court employees as the models, was the idea of Izetta Johnson more than 20 years ago. She was a co-chair of the Black History Month Committee and before she transitioned into retirement, she handed the reigns of the show to Richardson.

“A whole lot of work goes into the fashion show every year,” Richardson said. “The most difficult part is persuading people to participate because they’re shy.”

Hon. Deborah Dowling, co-chair of the Black History Month Committee with Richardson, said, “I’ve been working closely with her for four years. [Leah Richardson] is a driving force behind the fashion show.”

In fact, Richardson can only remember two times that she was able to watch the show because she’s too busy running two and fro in the chaos of all the garbs, hats, and models.

Richardson was one of the first people to jump on board to help Johnson with the show. She remembers walking up and down Fulton Street and Livingston Street looking for African fashion designers to donate clothing. Some designers had been on board for over a decade.

“I went out by myself and begged [and] pleaded,” Richardson said. “My theory around this fashion show is this is not America’s Next Top Model, this is just for fun. There are no rehearsals. Models can simply walk a line or go all out with theatrics like black power fists and twirls.

“The structured thing,” Richardson said while cringing at the thought, “we don’t need all that.”

The Black History Month Committee puts on this show at the end of February to mark the end of Black History Month. It caps off a series of other events that are hosted throughout the courthouses, and coordinated with the help of Richardson, which are more serious and educational. The fashion show lets court employees incorporate a little bit of fun into the month.

Richardson explained that it’s important for her to play a role in the committee because black history in America has had its sorrows and that it’s important to continue remembering.

“We need to know where we came from, we need to know our struggles,” she said. “We end the month this way to show off our culture.”

This year, while people watched the fashion show, they were unlikely to spot Richardson, since she was running around behind the scenes. She’s unlikely to get a break in the future either — she explained that this year’s event was louder with more employees watching, clapping and hooting in the lobby than ever before. Even the upper balcony was filled to near capacity for the event.

“I’m a big advocate for giving back,” Richardson said. “I give back and everyone who knows me knows I give back. So give back, get your blessings that way.”

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