Episode 7 – Women of Color: Architects in the Public Defense Movement




Co-hosts Jonathan Rapping and Ilham Askia sat down with three amazing women who are leaders not only in their offices, but within this fight for equality for all people. They will speak about how GP has shaped their work, the successes and challenges they face in their jurisdictions and how three, dynamic women of color run offices that set the standard for public defense.



Martesha L. Johnson currently serves as the Chief Public Defender of the Nashville Metropolitan Defenders. She is the first African American to be elected to this position and only the second woman. She has a heart for serving people and was determined to be a public defender since completing an internship with the Nashville Public Defender’s office in 2007. She has devoted her entire career to public defense work and believes people are worth more that the worse thing they have ever done.

Martesha graduated with highest honors from Tennessee State University where she received a Presidential Scholarship, was a Sophisticated Lady in the world renowned “Aristocrat of Bands”, and was recognized as the graduating student with the highest GPA in her major in 2005 along with many other honors and recognitions. She graduated from The University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Law, where she was recognized as the Julian Blackshear, Jr. outstanding student and honored for her dedication to public service work.

Martesha currently teaches trial advocacy at Vanderbilt Law School. She is a member of the Nashville Bar Association and the National Association of Public Defenders. She is a graduate of Gideon’s Promise Class of 2009. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

Martesha Johnson on Facebook

Martesha Johnson on LinkedIn

Martesha Johnson on Twitter



Aisha McWeay is a career public defender and indigent defense advocate who graduated summa cum laude from Clark Atlanta University and received her J.D. from Vanderbilt University in May 2009. She is currently the Executive Director of Still She Rises, Tulsa, OK, a holistic defense office dedicated to providing client-centered, innovative, and excellent legal representation to indigent mothers. Prior to taking on this role in February 2019, Aisha served in a number of roles at the Nashville Defenders. She began her career as an Assistant Public Defender in 2009, became the General Sessions Division Chief in 2014, and was sworn in as Deputy Public Defender of Nashville in April 2017.

Aisha has served in a number of training and mentoring capacities to public defense and community service organizations nationally. She currently serves as Board Chair of the Nashville Community Bail Fund, both an Executive and Steering Committee member of the National Association of Public Defense, and alumni faculty member of Gideon’s Promise. In recognition of her contributions to the public defense community, in July 2017 Aisha was awarded the Gideon’s Promise Stephen B. Bright award. Aisha is an alumni member of the Gideon’s Promise Class of 2010.

Aisha McWeay on Facebook 

Aisha McWeay on LinkedIn

Aisha McWeay on Twitter 


Chantá Parker is the Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit, a public defense organization known nationally and internationally for its innovative, community-based, holistic public defense practice. As a public defender, criminal justice strategist, and leader, Chantá has over ten years of criminal defense experience, having worked as a supervising attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice of the Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn office, and as a felony trial attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders. Chantá has also served as the Special Counsel for New Initiatives at the Innocence Project in New York.


Chantá is nationally recognized for her expertise regarding training, management, and supervision of public defenders. Chantá is a faculty member for Gideon’s Promise and for the National Association of Public Defense’s Executive Leadership Institute. Chantá also serves as the board secretary of the Essie Justice Group, a sisterhood of women with incarcerated loved ones, where she has shepherded the growth of Essie from its inception and shares its commitment to justice, Black liberation, and women’s leadership. Chantá is a Women’s Media Center SheSource expert and a 2015 Council of Urban Professionals Fellow. In 2020, Chantá was honored as one of Crain’s Detroit 40 under 40. Chantá holds a BA in African American History from Spelman College and a JD from the New York University School of Law.

Chantá Parker on LinkedIn

Chantá Parker on Twitter




  • The nation seems to be focusing on women of color and their rise to leadership positions, why has society turned its attention to black women? As women of color who lead, do you think the glass ceiling is officially been shattered?
  • What do you see as your role in this fight for equity in the criminal legal system?
  • How do we get more leaders like you in this space? What barriers still exist?
  • What does the world look like when the next generation after you takes the reigns?

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 (Available Now).