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Natashia Is “Graced”

Published: February 20, 2017

Growing up as a young Black woman in Santa Clarita in the early 1990s, Natashia (Harris) Deón didn’t give all that much thought about attending college. There was a reason.

“At that time, there weren’t other African-American people in my life who had finished college,” she said. “Everyone seemed to be going to college, but nobody was actually finishing college.”

After high school, through circumstance, Deón found herself attending a summer camp put on by The Society of Black Engineers at CSULB. With that experience, she witnessed people who looked like her actually graduating from college. It opened her eyes to that all-too-real possibility.

“Okay, I can do this,” she told herself.

She enrolled into CSULB through its Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provided a home, a community where she felt a great belonging.

“It completely changed my life; it really did,” she said of EOP. “It was the first time I really thought I could be Black and smart and successful.”

Once enrolled, she went full blast, which might be a slight understatement.

“My total time at CSULB was three years,” she said. “I took up to 26 units a semester.” That’s right, she said 26 units a semester. That’s not allowed now, but it was then.

But going to class wasn’t all Deón did. She got involved, serving as a student body senator and participating in other organizations such as a theater group and with Black scholars.

To do all that, though, you need a plan, and she had one.

“I created a plan that mimicked high school, something I was used to, so I wouldn’t get lazy,” she said. “I went to college just like when I was in high school and then I would take classes at night. I was very serious about school.” Clearly.

And, at times, things got stressful, very stressful. But in her corner she had a great ally named Brett Waterfield, currently CSULB’s director of Student Life and Development.

“He saved my life on days when I was doing too much,” she said. “Some days when I thought I couldn’t make it, I’d be crying in his office, stressed out and anxious. I spent a lot of time in his office for moral support because I was trying to figure things out. He was always encouraging. I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s how we grow and he was always that person who would listen.”

Looking back, even she marvels at the accomplishment of graduating so quickly. She also laughs at the insanity of it all. But, she finished in three years (1992-95) with a bachelor of arts degree in speech communications.

Then, it was on to the next goal, which continued to reveal her personal drive.

After working for a year, she attended Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, going nights while continuing to work full-time. She earned her law degree in 2000.

Now, she practices criminal law, doing mostly post-conviction work. Her main clientele consists of individuals she refers to as “the working poor.” Often she works pro-bono or just for expenses.

“If I stop practicing law,” she said, “it’s like I’m going to stop helping people and I couldn’t do that.”

She also teaches business law at Trinity Law School and The College of the Canyons, serving as an adjunct professor at both.

But wait, there’s more.

Natashia Deon
PHOTO COURTESY OF NATASHIA DEON
Natashia Deón

For seven years—while practicing law, teaching and raising a family—Deón was writing. She loves to write. She liked telling stories as a kid, a talent she noted benefits her when presenting courtroom cases. But as a writer, was she any good?

She found out last year when her book, Grace, was published by Counterpoint Press in Berkeley. The story of a runaway slave in the 1840s South has earned rave reviews and been covered by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, People magazine, Redbook and many other publications.

But there were some anxious moments. Her agent submitted a manuscript to places she was certain would embrace it.

“But they were passing on it and we didn’t know why,” said Deón. “I thought maybe I was just fooling myself all the time, maybe I wasn’t that good of a writer, but it turned out the big publishing houses had already taken on books set in the same period of time so that worked against us.

“But Grace became the little engine that could,” she added. “It was the underdog. Counterpoint did such a great job. They got it out there and it was so well received that it sort of made its way to the top.

“This book was a labor of love, but I didn’t write it to get recognition,” she added, noting that she continues to divide her time equally between practicing law, teaching and her writing. “I wrote it because I felt like I had a story to tell and then it was just received in this way. Of course, it encourages me to keep writing.”

And, despite the great reviews, book signings and everything else that comes along with a successful book, Deón still pinches herself.

“It feels unreal,” she said. “It feels like I’m watching this happen to somebody that I like and it’s like, ‘Give me a high five,’ but it doesn’t feel like it’s me.”

Ah, but it is.