New Hope, MN — Nadine Graves knows that transformation happens when we listen to and learn from people’s lived experiences. Her own trauma-filled youth led to a criminal record at a young age, but after a rehabilitative process, she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a law degree. Her experiences, and those of others who have been disenfranchised and dehumanized by the criminal justice system, inspired her to share her story and those of others through an acclaimed podcast and other platforms. She believes there is power and healing when people express their truth, and that storytelling can catalyze change. Her long history of working with and advocating for people whose voices are seldom heard includes serving as a Hennepin County public defender and as deputy director of Community Legal Services for the Legal Rights Center. Nadine will pursue advanced training in social impact storytelling and connect with and learn from a broad array of individuals and organizations who use storytelling to shift narratives and concepts of justice.
What informed your approach to leading change in your community?
My approach has been informed by my personal interactions with the legal system, both while working with folks as a case manager and the way I was treated as a result of my criminal record. I realized that I am not that different from the people I was working with and was tired of seeing them othered and denied opportunities. I’ve learned that storytelling, creating space for people to share their stories, forces one to see a person's humanity beyond a criminal record.
What was your “dream job” when you were younger?
I recall thinking I'd be either a doctor, a lawyer or a fashion designer. But I discovered I couldn't stomach the sight of blood, so I opted to be a nurse like my mom, but my criminal background precluded that. I ultimately shifted to being a lawyer because I wanted to help others with experiences like mine. Finally, I still love fashion, now, I just enjoy it through dressing up, especially in my tailor-made African-print dresses and suits.
What is your favorite quote or expression?
I have two: “Treat others the way you want to be treated," and “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.”