Rumble in the Bronx
Nicole Aldridge-Henry coaches the next generation on more than just law
Published in 2023 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine
By Marisa Bowe on September 25, 2023
Nicole Aldridge-Henry’s journey to the law began at age 5 watching Matlock on Jamaica’s sole TV station. “The whole investigating and hard work to get to ‘Aha, this is what this is all about,’ that intrigued me,” she says. “I wanted to be that.”
Now she’s helping Bronx middle schoolers with their own journeys.
Born and raised in Kingston, Aldridge-Henry headed to Virginia for college because her grandmother lived there and because she got a scholarship, but the move was more of a culture shock than she’d anticipated. “When you migrate from a country that’s predominantly Black, you don’t ever have to think about being Black,” she says. “You don’t ever have to assess situations before walking into a room. So coming to America, I was forced to confront my Blackness, which had never been an issue before. Standing up for what I believed in became something I had to do on a daily basis.”
If that experience was eye-opening, so was St. John’s University School of Law—but for a different reason. Once she started doing clinics and mock trials, she says, “Practicing attorneys would come up to me afterward and say, ‘You have to go into litigation. Your skills are too good to waste somewhere else.’”
After graduating in 2011, she was recruited by the New York City Law Department Office of Corporation Counsel. For the next five years, Aldridge-Henry was responsible for defending personal injury civil lawsuits brought against the city and its agencies. “Within a year I was trying cases,” she says. “It’s baptism by fire. It was scary, but good, and really honed my skills.”
It was at the Bronx courthouse that Aldridge-Henry saw flyers asking for volunteer coaches for the Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Program. Founded in 1997 by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Taylor and Justice Eddie McShan, the idea was to introduce the legal profession to kids who hadn’t had that opportunity.
“When I went to law school, a lot of the kids were second-generation lawyers,” Aldridge-Henry explains. “That kind of privilege doesn’t exist everywhere. I talked to Judge Taylor and said, ‘This is something that I would really love to do.’”
She began coaching in 2014 and continued as she transitioned into insurance defense work. In 2022, she became a partner at Black Marjieh & Sanford.
The coaching is several hours per week, from January to June, with students given the opportunity to prepare as prosecutors or defense attorneys. “You have a group and you meet with them regularly and go over exercises,” she says. “You spend the first couple of sessions explaining what prosecution is, what defense is, and the quick fundamentals of the criminal justice and legal systems.”
It’s more than just the basics of law. “You’re also teaching them how to have the confidence to do it,” Aldridge-Henry says. “‘I can do hard things. I can make speeches in front of everyone. I can work hard, and just because I’m not familiar with a particular topic or profession doesn’t mean that I can’t do well in it.’”
The competition itself is held in a Bronx courthouse, with real judges sometimes dedicating their time to judging these competitions. “The majority of them never believed that they could actually accomplish this,” she says. “A lot of these kids didn’t have access to professional dress for the competition.”
The most indelible moment for Aldridge-Henry came in 2019 when she was asked to give the keynote speech for the graduation ceremony at Icahn Charter School 6. “As I stood at the lectern prepared to address the students and the families of the entire 8th grade, and not just my mock trial students, a sea of faces from the largely Caribbean and African immigrant community stared back at me,” she says. “In that moment, it seemed to me that my very presence was emblematic, that despite the struggles, hardships, closed doors, and injustice faced by people of color, success is attainable. More importantly, for me, as a Black immigrant woman, it was important for my children to record this moment in their minds as representative that there is no ceiling to what can be attained by us.” Aldridge-Henry adds that it’s an honor to coach these kids, “and hopefully open this door and turn this light on for them to say, ‘Never let anybody tell you you’re not good enough to do something. You don’t ask for acceptance, you demand it. You kick in the door.’”
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