By Anjali Gahlaut
The Hooks Institute’s “Where Are They Now?” series explores how the institute has shaped the lives and careers of former alumni. The series uncovers valuable experiences, skills, and lessons that former alumni acquired during their time at Hooks.
Sasha Riedisser is a Litigation Associate at the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) law firm in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2022, she was awarded the Hon. John R. Essner Young Lawyer of the Year Award from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri for her pro bono and community engagement work. Riedisser joined the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change team when she was assigned as a graduate assistant by the University of Memphis’ English department in 2013. Riedisser states, “When I started, I didn’t know what I was going to be doing or working on. It ended up being a really good fit and a really great project, so I definitely got lucky.”
During her time as a graduate assistant, Riedisser primarily worked on Hooks’ “Tent City” project. Riedisser built the website that outlines the struggles and victories of a grassroots movement in Fayette County, Tennessee. The website also covers multiple civil rights events that took place in Fayette County between 1959 and 1970.
Through Riedisser’s research on Tent City, she learned the importance of listening rather than assuming when identifying the needs of those seeking help. “The people who needed help [in Tent City] were directing the movement, saying ‘these are the resources we need, these are the services we need, and these are the rights we need,’ so I think it’s really important as a lawyer to stop and say, ‘what is the need?’. I learned to ask the people who have the need what they need, and to not assume that I know.” Fayette County is often overlooked when addressing civil rights in the United States. Therefore, the majority of research conducted by Riedisser required extracting information directly from the source through primary documents. “I really needed to dive deep into source material like reading newspapers or going through old letters. It was an experience that I’d never had before—going through a large amount of documents and analyzing them and figuring out what the story is and what happened,” Riedisser explains. As a lawyer, analyzing and piecing together large quantities of documents is a practical skill for Riedisser. “A lot of litigation is getting a large set of documents on your client and figuring out what the story is and what happened. It’s been really helpful to have that background of going back to the source and building your narrative.”
Hear from Sasha Riedisser
Riedisser’s experience at Hooks and working on the Tent City project has expanded her view of not only the Civil Rights Movement, but the world as a whole. She explains, “…as a person of privilege, it’s my job to seek out and figure out what other people go through and what other people’s experiences are. I think that working at Hooks and the experience I had working with the Fayette County project really helped me realize faults in my own thinking and see the world through in a more accurate light”.
About the Author
Anjali Claire Gahlaut graduated from White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee and is now a rising sophomore and prospective History major at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Anjali spent the summer of 2022 as an intern at Hooks and joined the team to gain a deeper understanding of Memphis’ history and its impact on marginalized groups.