Justice Walker-Diallo breaks barriers and confronts Islamophobia in the legal system

February 22, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo recently had a discussion with the Diversity Dialogue podcast, hosted by the NYS Unified Court System.Photo: Caroline Ourso/Brooklyn Eagle
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In a recent episode of the Diversity Dialogue podcast, hosted by the NYS Unified Court System, Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, New York City Civil Court Administrative judge and the first Muslim person to serve as a judge in New York State, shared her experiences and challenges in promoting diversity within the legal system. 

It didn’t take long for people to take notice of Justice Walker-Diallo as she marked her appointment in 2015 by taking her oath of office on the Qur’an, leading to a public backlash that included severe accusations and threats to her safety.

“I was actually shocked by the backlash,” Justice Walker-Diallo said on the podcast. “Of course, I was disappointed. I was hurt and I was concerned for my safety and my family’s safety. We had to have NYPD presence outside of my house for a certain amount of time, but it was definitely eye-opening to know that certain people, not all, because there’s some amazing people in this state, this city and this country, but that we have a lot of work to do in terms of understanding each other and recognizing that we are so diverse in this country and that ‘American’ doesn’t look one particular way.”

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Her legal journey is adorned with a series of prestigious roles, including serving in the Brooklyn Criminal Court and Manhattan Civil Court, being appointed as a supervising judge of the Kings County Civil Court in 2018, and later being elected to the New York State Supreme Court from Kings County in November 2021. 

Walker-Diallo’s story is deeply rooted in her Brooklyn upbringing, drawing strength from her family’s Southern heritage and their migration to New York during the Great Migration. Her parents, a retired police officer and a bookkeeper, instilled in her the values of community service and resilience. This foundation spurred her to become an advocate for youth in her community, leading the George Walker Jr. Community Coalition in honor of her father. She has degrees from Lincoln University, Baruch College and New York Law School

Despite the challenges she has faced in her career, Justice Walker-Diallo emphasized the importance of understanding and celebrating the diverse fabric of American society. She recounted her personal journey from harboring negative presumptions about Islam, based on media misrepresentations, to embracing the faith after a profound spiritual awakening. 

This transformation was partly influenced by her interactions with Muslim colleagues post-9/11, which challenged her preconceived notions and led her to seek a deeper understanding of Islam.

Walker-Diallo’s narrative extends beyond her religious conversion, touching on her upbringing in Brooklyn, the influence of her parents’ Southern roots and their involvement in community activism. This background shaped her commitment to justice and community service, evident in her legal career and her role in youth development through the George Walker Jr. Community Coalition.

“I have experienced it in the sense that people have this irrational fear, this prejudice, this hatred, this discrimination against Muslims, and it comes out in different ways,” Walker-Diallo said. “I’m blessed that I haven’t had any physical altercations or anything like that, but I’ve had situations where people have said things that I deem to be disrespectful and prejudicial, and I can either get upset about it or use it as an opportunity to educate, to tell them that’s inappropriate”

Throughout the podcast, Walker-Diallo highlighted the significance of her educational journey, from attending Lincoln University, an HBCU, to obtaining law and MBA degrees, which provided her with a unique perspective and skill set that she brings to her judicial role. Her story underscores the ongoing need for dialogue and understanding in addressing Islamophobia and fostering a more inclusive legal system.

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