Christina Kawon Cheng is the newest addition to our Legal Services team at NVRDC. Prior to coming here, Christina worked at the Center for Family Representation in New York City. She is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, New York University, and Fordham Law School. (Fun fact, in her free time she enjoys going on Segway tours!) She took some time to sit down with us and share a little about what motivates her in advocating for the rights of all types of crime victims here in the District of Columbia.
What made you want to practice law?
I decided to go to law school in my sophomore year of high school after I took biology and realized I couldn’t become a doctor. I had my heart set on going into big law to make big money so that I could support my parents who had worked so hard as immigrant small-business owners to provide me with a comfortable and loving home as well as a top-quality education.
What happened by the end of my first year of law school is that I began to ponder the true purpose of my life. Providing for my parents in their retirement was still important to me, but my father had an infectious heart of compassion for others and encouraged me to consider how I should use my life to improve the lives of others.
What did you do before starting here at NVRDC?
I grew up in Queens County in New York City and did all of my schooling from high school on in Manhattan. During law school, I interned at various non-profit organizations and worked on disability and housing rights in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, family law and domestic violence/immigration in the South Bronx, and housing rights in downtown Manhattan. Upon graduation, I worked as a fellow in the chambers of a New York State Supreme Court judge presiding over a civil part in Manhattan. In 2011, I was hired as a staff attorney at the Center for Family Representation (CFR) and began working in both Manhattan and Queens, providing direct representation to indigent parents accused of neglecting and abusing their children. I fought against foster care placements and asserted my clients’ parental rights while preparing their defense against the charges lodged against them, which ranged from marijuana use to serious physical and sexual abuse.
What made you want to work at NVRDC?
At CFR, I represented both victims and perpetrators of crime, but mostly perpetrators. I felt that it was time to step away from defense work but still continue to work within the non-profit sector, using my skills and experience to help others. I left New York and moved to the DC area with my husband and found NVRDC, which focuses exclusively on victims all types of crime. There is a bright passion about the place that was evident from my first interview with Bridgette, one of our Co-Executive Directors, and I feel lucky to be here.
What’s your favorite thing about working here so far?
The thing that amazes me as an insider at NVRDC is how supportive people are of everyone else. There is a genuine camaraderie here, and it was instantly like being at home. When you’re doing this kind of work, which can be excruciatingly heartbreaking and frustrating, it is so important to feel that you can count on your coworkers to help you carry on. This atmosphere is not all that easy to find, and I love that it is constantly challenging me to be more of a proactively good human being.
What do you wish people knew about the legal system?
I wish people knew what the legal system can and cannot do for them. On the one hand, it can provide power to disadvantaged people who feel they are helpless to assert their rights when they don’t know what rights they have. On the other hand, I’ve seen many people who have not been informed of their rights and think they can get more out of the system than what they’re entitled to, and this lack of expectation management can lead to disappointment and distrust. To have information is to have power, and I’m glad to be part of the education process for crime victims in DC.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work, I’m usually eating. Well, I suppose I’m usually eating when I’m at work, too. And while I’m driving. Also, I’m still a bit homesick for New York, so I’m constantly thinking of excuses to go back to see family, friends, and my favorite eateries. I also love to travel and try to leave the country to travel at least once a year.