Alumni Profile: Johnathan Epps '01

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cooper Bourdon '11

Epps.jpgJohnathan Epps was a hard-nosed kid from Brooklyn, New York, an area that had gone through tough times for a number of years. It was difficult enough to stay focused in school and earn good grades without being subjected to gang culture and street life on a daily basis. Epps stayed away from all of that nonsense, but that did not stop the nonsense from seeking him out. 

“Once the Los Angeles gangs, like the Bloods and Crips, made their way to New York, things got worse in my neighborhood,” said Epps. It is well known that the Bloods and Crips do not like each other, and it caused trouble for those who were suspected of loyalty to the opposition. “I went to a school in Crip territory and my neighborhood was Blood. As soon as I stepped on campus, they would single me out,” explained Epps. It led to a significant amount of self-defense for Epps.

The situation grew worse, so Epps’ mother encouraged him to get out of the neighborhood. That is where R-MA came into the picture. Epps was interested in aviation and saw that R-MA offered the opportunity to fly. “I moved in with my aunt in Fredericksburg, Virginia, while I waited to be accepted into R-MA.” 

The news of his acceptance finally arrived and Epps became a Yellow Jacket, but it did not seem to be a good fit at first. “I was not used to that kind of structure,” recalled Epps. “I was a teenaged kid who was used to running around the neighborhood with no rules and no curfew. Now I was in a structured environment where I was always accounted for.” 

The first few weeks were a challenge and Epps did whatever he could to go against the grain, but eventually he recognized the value of the system. “I realized that a system was in place and you could not break it without being kicked out,” said Epps. “I started to go with the flow and things got better for me.” His situation got much better as he excelled in the classroom and became a starter on the varsity basketball team.

After graduation, Epps went back to Brooklyn and interned as a paralegal assistant while applying to colleges. He was accepted into Stony Brook University and graduated in 2005 with a degree in economics and political science, all while he interned as a paralegal assistant. Upon graduation, he put his economics degree to use and worked on Wall Street as a Proprietary Equity Trader.  

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After the tumultuous routine of a trader on Wall Street, Epps decided to work for another firm on Wall Street, but this time as a paralegal. This is when his passion for the law grew and became his life’s work. As a result, he attended Cardozo School of Law where he studied intellectual property and interned at Sean John Fashion. Upon graduation, he briefly worked in securities litigation before he was appointed as an Assistant District Attorney, where he prosecuted school crimes in Brooklyn.

Fast-forward to the present and Epps has his own practice focused on criminal defense and civil litigation. He is also involved in the community and provides his experiences as a lawyer to incoming African-American law students, to help mentor them through the difficulties of law school and the legal field. Epps is also an enthusiastic chess player and teaches the game to youth at Union Square Park. He spends his free time rock climbing, mostly giant boulders in the parks of New York City, and enjoys fantasy football every fall.

Epps was asked, “How did R-MA help prepare you for life?” After one second of silence he said, “It opened up the world to me. I came from a homogeneous environment where we never thought of life beyond the neighborhood. We didn’t make plans or talk about life outside of the neighborhood.” At R-MA, Epps met classmates from around the world and it broadened his scope. “I was exposed to culturally literate kids at R-MA who had seen more of the world than I could hope to in my life,” he explained. “It helped me develop patience with my peers and forge friendships despite the dramatic difference in our upbringings.”

Epps makes an effort to impart the lessons learned at R-MA on his own children. Epps and his wife of nine years, Sheena, have two children: a nine-year-old son, Nathaniel, and a three-year-old daughter, Mia. “I always mess with Nate about his gig-line,” Epps chuckled. “It’s funny to watch how frustrated he gets.”