By Fletcher Word
You have to love it when a plan comes together!
And what a plan this would be. A brilliant young student graduates high school and, like so many before her, leaves Toledo for college. She spends some years in the big city with the bright lights, winding up in an even bigger city with the brightest lights of all and, unlike so many wandering Toledoans before and after her, she plots and schemes and, eventually, finds her way back home and into the loving arms of the community that groomed her.
Great plan indeed. We would have to love something coming together so perfectly.
However, even though Ashley Futrell is indeed back home and indeed grateful to have returned- just as so many in her hometown are so grateful to have her back, it was not exactly part of a carefully designed plan on her part.
“I learned a long time ago, I plan and God laughs,” she says. “I believe everything happens for a reason; I believe in faith. When I think of the unbelievable opportunities I have had, it must be God.”
Futrell, now an associate attorney with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, graduated from Toledo Christian in 2002 and headed to American University in Washington, DC to earn a bachelor’s in Law and Society. After graduation she remained amongst the bright lights and in the big city to work in the federal government and to earn a masters from Johns Hopkins University.
After several more years working in government on Capitol Hill as a senior staff member advising several members of Congress on legislative issues, she entered Howard University’s School of Law.
Then came the really bright lights when Futrell moved to New York after graduation from law school to accept a position as assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
She never really had her eye on returning to Toledo at that point but fate, or God, intervened. “I really loved the experience I had in New York,” she says, and part of that experience included membership in the National Black Prosecutors Association which, as do so many national organizations, held annual conferences.
As fate would have it, a senior prosecutor in the Manhattan office who was also part of the Association found himself too busy to attend a conference that was scheduled for Cleveland that year. Futrell was asked to attend in his place.
During the conference she met Marisa Darden, then an Assistant United States Attorney stationed in Cleveland, who had also started out as an assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan office.
“We connected,” recalls Futrell, “She told me that I should start to think about coming home.” The two kept talking, remained friends and “when the opening came up in Toledo, I eagerly applied,” says Futrell.
Finally, three and a half years ago, Futrell made it back to the Glass City after 16 years of wandering around in the … really bright lights.
“I look at Toledo as home; I have had a chance to rediscover Toledo as an adult,” she says. “I connected with the people here when I came back and the community has really embraced me.”
That the community has really embraced her may be an understatement. Futrell has become an integral part of the community, active in so many groups and causes. She is a member of the Thurgood Marshall Law Association, a member of the Toledo Chapter of The Links and a member of the boards of directors for Toledo Opera, United Way Women’s Initiative, Leadership Toledo, Toledo Alliance for the Performing Arts and the Toledo Bar Association.
In 2019 she was the recipient of Toledo’s 20 Under 40 Leadership Recognition Award.
While the return may not have been a part of a grand scheme, she is more than satisfied with the results of the path she has taken. “The biggest thing is that I’ve been able to find myself and where I am needed.”
When she was in law school, in fact, she sought an opportunity to go where she was needed by moving into a prosecutor’s position in Manhattan. That was a decision that was ridiculed by some of her colleagues who opined that her knowledge and talents would be of better use defending people rather than prosecuting them,
Her take on that is two-fold. First, victims need to be helped also and, second, “we as people of color need to be in every aspect of the criminal justice system – that’s the only way real change can happen.”
As an example, she points to the issue of jury demographics and how so very few people of color are on juries, particularly federal juries. “What can a person do to impact the justice system? Respond when called to jury duty,” she says.
After three years as an assistant U.S. attorney, Futrell joined Shumaker last December as an associate where she focuses on business, employment issues, white collar crimes and litigation in federal court, among other specialties. “I help businesses of all sizes,” she notes, adding that her previous position can inform clients “what the government is thinking.”
So, what’s next for the young lawyer? Since her return, some have speculated that a run for elected office might be in her future but that’s not something Futrell is focused on at all.
“The best leaders are the ones with life experiences,” she says. “I’m still learning and gathering information. The best way to be an advocate is not always to run for office. I’m a community advocate doing what I can for Toledo.“
A community advocate and a lawyer, of course. And always mindful of the words of a Howard law professor who told his students that a lawyer is either a “parasite on society or a social engineer who uses the Constitution in a way to benefit the community.”
As a law student Futrell got a head start on benefiting the community and created a program called HUSL for Change – Howard University School of Law for Change – crafted to demonstrate ways in which lawyers can be of help to the community.
“I’m going to be a social engineer,” says Futrell.