why this and why now?
My name is Melanie Gleason and I am a licensed immigration attorney.
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri to an inner city Clevelander and Thai immigrant. When I was 4 years old, my family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts where I spent the rest of my childhood and adolescence. Lowell is a strong blue collar, working class suburb about 30 miles north of Boston. When I was a kid going to French Canadian parochial schools, I was one of a handful of students who was a person of color and remember the scope of that experience vividly.
After high school, I went to the University of Texas at Austin where I eventually majored in Political Communication. Texas was definitely a whole different world from my East Coast upbringing. I lived in cooperative housing most of my time in Austin, where my housemates were from all over the country and world, and I became more involved in volunteerism. My junior year, I chaired the UT Student Volunteer Board, which I still look back at with great tenderness. These were the needed seeds to open my eyes to a world outside of my own—a diverse world with a spectrum of stories and experiences.
After graduating college, I moved to Los Angeles, California and spent the first 3 years of my career in South Central LA as a special education middle school teacher and program manager working with inner city youth. The isolationism of South Central made a large impression on me—and how de facto segregated it was from the rest of LA. This experience set the trajectory for the rest of my career rooted in social justice and service.
After working in South Central, I felt called to try to make a more macro-level impact. So, I spent the next 5 years offline and online organizing in urban and rural communities—focusing on electoral, legislative, and social issues. I spent a good chunk of this time in the Deep South in Pensacola, Florida. I absolutely loved working with people one-on-one—it gave me such a sense of connection and energy.
However, the deeper I got into the organizing world, the farther away I was from working directly with people. I also became disenchanted with some of the structural issues within some of the systems that were actually trying to dismantle the status quo. I felt increasingly lost and disoriented—feeling like I had strayed from the path that originally piqued and captivated my interest and heart. A colleague of mine once remarked: "There is a role for everyone in the movement." And I had a growing sense that my personal role was going to be something different.
Within this time, I also eventually moved to San Francisco, California to begin going to law school part-time—organizing during the day to put myself through school. I made this decision because I wanted to explore how to take critical organizing to the next level—how to become a community lawyer. I worked at legal services organizations throughout San Francisco and discovered that I absolutely loved working with clients—and needed to be on the ground. I also was aware of the larger level social issues that were impacting some of these clients and their legal issues. It spurred my interest to get my certification in life/transitions coaching—to help others move forward and clear the way for growth and change.
It was there and after a combination of personal and professional experiences that the seeds for this project started to develop. I knew I did not want to go into a law firm after getting licensed. I wanted to feel deep sense of passion that would enable me to continue this work into the long-term and more than anything, I wanted to be out there with people in the community.
With the litany of social justice issues that are plaguing our nation right now, and my sampling of diverse experiences that allowed me to peer into some of these worlds—I knew I wanted more. I wanted to see more so I could even more deeply experience what these worlds are like—so it could make me a more effective advocate. And arguably a more effective American—especially during these times under this administration.
I also want to share these experiences with you all because no one person can do the work alone—it truly takes a village. I've been grateful for the support of my community throughout this entire journey—and welcome you as being the latest member. I would love to hear from you and I hope to cross paths with you in person along the way!