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Danielle Ponder takes it to the stage.

Byline: Christine G. Adamo

Danielle Ponder is sure her clients' stories have influenced her songwriting.

"Soul music is something you feel," Ponder has said. "It gives you goosebumps."

The lawyer/singer/songwriter has a following that spans the globe. If you have seen her perform live at Anthology, The Little Theatre or "Party in the Park," you know this powerhouse's voice and style are both accessible and captivating.

An April 2016 European "Blow Out the Sun" debut EP release tour had Ponder and groove-infused soul backing band the Tomorrow People playing six shows nearly back-to-back: Amsterdam, London, Brussels and other cities across Belgium, as well as Denmark.

The 2017 ROC Award winners ("Female R&B Artist of the Year" and "Best Band") took a June 2018 "Dream Chaser" tour which, Ponder said, allowed her to travel the world, drive into her purpose and refocus after leaving the Monroe County Public Defender's Office in May 2018, after five years there.

"I'm on track," Ponder said. "The tour was about finding your true calling and putting your energy into that. We played six countries and 18 cities. It was intense!"

"Danielle shines bright both on and off the stage," said Boyd Kletter of Bourbon Street Blues Club in Amsterdam. "She truly is a star!"

Her path to law was paved with lessons that fanned that flame.

"I was motivated to become an attorney after witnessing the racial disparities in our criminal justice system," Ponder said. "When I was 16, my brother was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in prison. As an adult, I discovered that his sentence was due to mandatory minimum sentencing legislation. I knew (then) that I wanted to work for an agency that worked on criminal justice reform or to help those who were in jeopardy of being victimized by a discriminatory system."

Public defense was the path she chose, she said, adding that it can be cast in a negative light.

"I think the main misconception of public defenders is that they don't work hard," Ponder said. "The people at our (local) Public Defender's Office are some of the hardest working people I know.

"A weekend in that office can feel like just another workday because there are always people there working, meeting with clients, etc. I think they are also the smartest attorneys in town. They have decades of experience and know-how. That is invaluable."

People assume, she continued, that a defender "couldn't find a better job."

"I believe that people who choose to do this work do it because they are committed to giving the best representation to people who cannot afford it," Ponder said. "They are there because they have a heart for those who society has marked unworthy."

"For many in communities of color," Ponder added, "there exists a distrust of the office. There exists a belief that PDs work with the District Attorney to railroad a client. A good PD works with the DA to get the best outcome for their client and is often just as upset with the system as the client. They (understand) systemic failings and discriminatory practices."

One remedy, she noted, would be a community presence that builds trust.

"What I loved most about my time as a PD was my clients," Ponder said. "I really miss working in the court and offering a listening ear to people or comforting them or their families. I have been in the nonprofit world all of my adult life."

Ponder said she also enjoyed taking advantage of the knowledge available at the office, and was able to get "almost any question" answered simply by walking the halls.

"Lastly, as a public defender, you are constantly exercising acceptance and non-judgement," she said. "You learn to be less judgmental. You learn that we are all struggling with this thing called life.

"You learn," Ponder emphasized, "to view people through a three-dimensional lens. While the court or the DA might see only the things the person has done, you get to explore who they really are. You get to figure out how they got to this place."

A Rochester native, Ponder remains in private practice. Her mother is a retired social worker and her father is a former preacher. Taking "audiences to church" lets her blend gospel roots with a reverence for the work of Nina Simone, Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor and Lauren Hill.

For a closer look at Ponder's music, visit "For the Love of Justice" at DaniellePonderMusic.com. You can also ring in 2019 with Ponder and the Tomorrow People at club Anthology at 336 East Ave.

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Publication:Daily Record (Rochester, NY)
Date:Nov 27, 2018
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