Episode 19 – Black History Isn’t Just a Thing of the Past



This month we are celebrating Black History Month! Black History Month was created in 1976 to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of Black Americans past, present and future.

“Black history is American history.” – Morgan Freeman 

Co-hosts Jonathan Rapping and Ilham Askia sat down with longtime supporter, friend, and Gideon’s Promise faculty member, Lori James-Townes. Lori is the first Black woman to be named the Executive Director for the National Association for Public Defense. Grab a seat, as they discuss the correlation between public defense and civil rights, why is social work so important to public defense, and what it means to be the first.



Lori James-Townes is the Executive Director for the National Association for Public Defense. Lori has over 25 years of clinical practice, leadership, and management experience. She is the principal owner of Expand-NOW, a consulting firm specializing in speaker, coaching, and teaching. Prior experience, includes serving as the Director of Social Work, Leadership and Program Development at Maryland Office of Public Defender (which has more than 800 employees). While in this position, she demonstrated her ability to help others grow in the areas of teamwork, leadership, and management. She also led the agency’s social work staff, consultants, and interns. She has held teaching positions at Morgan State University, the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and most recently Towson University (Clinical Instructor).

Through Expand-Now, LLC, she is able to fulfill her lifelong passion for adding value to others. She has focused her attention on personal and professional development. Lori has developed programs that are now national models for other agencies. In 2015, The Daily Record Newspaper named her as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. As a speaker, her presence is requested both nationally and internationally to speak about: Mitigation, Storytelling, Leadership, Team Building, Implicit Bias in the Criminal Justice System, Secondary Trauma, and other clinical areas. She serves as the Alumni Board President for the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW).

She has held various leadership positions on national organizations and Boards of Directors. Her commitment to growth has been recognized as organizations have appointed her to serve as Conference Chair for several national conferences and training programs. Lori also serves as a faculty member for the following national and regional leadership development, trials skills, and/or training, She earned her master’s degree in clinical social work (University of Maryland SSW) and her B.A. in Social Work from Morgan State University. She completed all coursework in the Dr.Ph Public Health at Morgan State University.

One of Lori’s favorite motivational quotes is by Maya Angelou: “The is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”



  • Why it is so important to talk about public defense in conjunction with Black History month?
  • How can social workers and public defenders work together to achieve equal justice?
  • Why is collective diversity important to transforming our criminal legal system?

Gideon’s Promise: The Podcast can be found on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud,  YouTube and on the Gideon’s Promise website.



Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (2020) by Jonathan Rapping.