Local musician and practicing attorney Danielle Ponder spoke about her experiences and views in an interview with fellow Rochesterian and junior Miles Perry — president of Pride Network and vice president of No Disclaimers — at iZone’s second annual “Creators & Catalysts” event on Thursday evening.
Throughout the talk-show-style event, Ponder, whose band is called Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People, spoke about her evolution from a harshly political to a more “holistic musician.”
She described her music from her college days at SUNY Oswego, where she first started performing, as “a little self righteous.”
“I was like ‘Why do we have perms? Why don’t we all have afros? We need to go back to the motherland,’” Ponder said, adding “I was just trying to have a certain image, right?”
Though Ponder was critical of her early self, she maintained it was a necessary part of her growth as a person.
“I think I had to have that righteous phase,” Ponder said. “Because I was so mad that people didn’t like me.”
Now though, Ponder said she does not rely on others’ approval to measure self-worth. At the end of the event, Ponder sang her song “Three Word Revolution.” The three-word revolution, Ponder said in introducing the song, is “I love myself.”
Ponder also discussed how before she became a performer, she was intensely shy and insecure. Her music helped her in a way that extended beyond her performances.
In response to Perry’s question about how music has healed her, Ponder said that “music gave [her] confidence.”
“I don’t think I could be a lawyer if it wasn’t for music,” Ponder said. “Because now I can go into a courtroom and do a trial. That wasn’t going to happen for me unless music stepped in.”
Ponder admitted that she does “still preach a little bit,” but she insisted her music serves a different purpose now.
“When I sing I do want people to feel impacted and I want them to think about whatever struggles might be going on in their lives,” Ponder said. “But mainly I want them to feel alive in that present moment.”
This is not to say that Ponder — who is still an attorney, but as of several months ago not a public defender — is no longer political in her life or music. When Perry asked what Ponder believed to be the biggest issue in Rochester or the United States, Ponder responded, “Poverty,” then adding, semi-jokingly, “capitalism.”
But the issue that Ponder spoke the most about was the criminal justice system.
“This is the new Jim Crow, the new slave system, however you want to slice it, we are incarcerating blacks and latinos at alarming rates and the majority are for nonviolent offenses,” Ponder said.
When Perry opened up the floor for the audience’s questions, several were issue-oriented. The theme of voting and elections was strong.
When Ponder was asked about solving systemic issues by an audience member, she stressed the importance of electing progressive candidates.
“Who you have in that black robe can make a world of a difference between whether someone gets 60 days for marijuana or whether someone just gets community service or pays a fine,” Ponder said, speaking about judges in particular.
The importance of voting was also stressed at the start of the event when Ponder and Perry were being introduced by event co-directors senior Maria Hackett and sophomore Ewin Joseph. It was Election Day, and Hackett and Joseph encouraged attendees to get to the polls before they closed. Hackett explained later that their decision to include the Election Day reminder was in keeping with the iZone’s goals of “multidisciplinary change-making, problem-solving, and community impact.”
Joseph and Hackett also chose to kick off the event with a performance not by Ponder, but by junior and president of No Disclaimers N’dea Tucker, who sang Beyoncé’s “Freedom,” unaccompanied by any instruments or backup. Hackett thought the song was appropriate for the evening’s guest and discussion.
“In tune with what Danielle stands up for, the song is a protest against historical inequality and inequity — specifically police brutality,” said Tucker.
Joseph and Hackett said they wanted to thank everyone who attended the event, particularly Ponder and Perry.
When Ponder was asked to sing at the end of the event — “Every time I speak this happens,” she quipped — her performance of “Three Word Revolution” seemed both personal and issue-oriented, as shown in four lines that repeated in her performance.
“‘Cause there’s a rebel inside of me/ Said a girl who knows what she wants to be/ Yeah, there’s a dreamer, there’s a dreamer inside of me. / And I won’t stop until I’m free.”