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12 Rounds with Nia Trammell


In our new weekly feature 12 Rounds, leaders will answer 12 questions — some light, some heavy — from our Publisher and CEO Henry Sanders to help the community understand them, what they do, and why. Today: Dane County Circuit Court Judge Nia Trammell.

Nia Trammell is the sixth Black woman judge in Wisconsin history — and the first outside of Milwaukee County — appointed by Gov. Tony Evers in 2020. She previously served as the deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, a senior administrative law judge for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and an attorney in private practice.

What advice would you give someone who is a person of color not from Wisconsin who is thinking about moving to Madison? Resist the temptation of becoming a casualty of complacency and solitude.  The experience here is much more fulfilling when you find your tribe and you walk boldly in your purpose, whatever that may be.  Engagement is the key.   

Name three songs that accurately reflect how you’re feeling.

I Get Lifted (Remixes), Barbara Tucker 

Strength, Courage and Wisdom, India.Arie

Stay This Way, The Brand New Heavies

If you could go back in time to any point of life to tell yourself something, what age would you go back to and what would you tell yourself? So many life experiences have added to the depth and richness of who I am today.  I benefited from each success and every challenge.  I would not go back.  I would embrace my growth and tell myself each day moving forward that I am the sum of all of those experiences.  I would remind myself with each passing day, that I should always follow my North Star, trust my inner voice, be open to additional growth, surround myself with people who are purpose-driven and altruistic, and remain benevolent.  

What did you learn about yourself in 2020? That I can be still.  And that is ok.  To be very transparent, like many others, 2020 yielded a range of emotions. We experienced some amazing milestones, yet suffered our share of disappointments and loss.  I think the global pandemic and human rights issues across the country literally crippled many of us. When our worlds came to a halt, many of us were forced to just sit down and be still.  Having to be still unleashed a greater level of intentionality for me.  It gave me a moment to refocus and repurpose, first beginning by really taking stock of my life, the people in it, and cherishing it all.  I learned how strong my faith is.  I learned how powerful the bonds of family and friends are.  I learned to not underestimate the life-changing effects of self-care and love.  These things were not necessarily illusory for me before the pandemic, but I think the pandemic made it more evident and amplified its beauty in a way that I truly appreciate.      

At this point of your life do you feel you have found your purpose? If so, how did you figure out your purpose? My calling has been in public service, however that manifests.  Whether as a state employee, elected official, or as an ordinary member of the community engaged in civic service -that squares with my personal conviction.  It felt right when I was able to marry my passion with service. 

There is a lot of division around the issues of race in politics. What can we do to lessen those divisions? There have been plenty of polarizing events and there is certainly room for healing.  Throughout our history, there have been inflection points that have served as monumental catalysts for change.  You get there by allowing various voices and perspectives at the table.  You get there by listening.  You get there through empathy.  You must make the reasonable concession that you cannot always do the same thing the same way, and expect different results.  You cannot simply be inflexible to change.  You must couple the talk with meaningful and transformative action.  

You’re the first Black woman judge in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee County. How do you deal with the expectations and pressure of being the FIRST? I breathe.  I center myself.  I remind myself that in the end, each person wants to be respected, heard and walk away knowing they had a fair shake at justice.  The perfectionist in me would also say that a little bit of over-preparation does not hurt.  

You were born in southern Nigeria. Did you ever feel tension between keeping your African culture and embracing Black American culture? Unimaginable given that my parents have a great deal of cultural pride, which they instilled in us throughout our lives.  I love that I can embrace and celebrate both.  

Soda: Strawberry or orange? Orange — with vanilla ice cream.  

Why did you choose to join the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.? Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., was founded on November 12, 1922, at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana by seven school teachers.  It was the first black sorority founded at a predominately white university during a time when there was heightened racial turmoil in the United States.  The audacity of these black women educators to organize a black sorority where they did and when they did is remarkable in and of itself.  Education, scholarship, and service were and remain pillars of the organization.  Those are core values I identify with.  When I was on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, I was interested in opportunities to form a sisterhood network for support.  I met Wanda Anthony and Sharon Green, who were graduate members of the sorority and I was impressed.  There was a realness, an authenticity that permeated every interaction.  And as I learned more about the organization, I was equally impressed with the sorority’s philanthropic reach, including the work they did with Africare, as well as the opportunities to develop professionally and provide service in my community.  When I had the opportunity to reactivate the undergraduate chapter with other exceptionally talented women on campus, we enthusiastically embraced it.    

Name your top three female rappers of all time.   

MC Lyte

Lauryn Hill

Lady of Rage

Hip Hop or Jazz? Hip hop-infused jazz.  Because I appreciate both.