A Houston County woman hugged Tracie Melvin-Wilson on Thursday morning.
Melvin-Wilson helped the woman settle her divorce by serving as her attorney at the Houston County Courthouse.
“My client got everything she needed,” Melvin-Wilson said. “As a matter of fact, she said it was the best Valentine’s Day she’s ever had because now she’s free.”
Melvin-Wilson said it was her grandmother, Juanita Crawford, who inspired her to work in legal services. She’s worked most of her nearly nine-year career as an attorney at Legal Services Alabama, where she now serves as a managing attorney.
Melvin-Wilson said among the many services they provide is representation for divorces involving spousal abuse.
Her grandmother raised her after her mother, Lozene, became a victim of domestic violence. As a child, Melvin-Wilson’s mother was fatally shot by her father.
“I represent them the way I would’ve wanted someone to represent my mother,” she said. “Had my mother had someone in legal services to turn to, she could’ve gotten help. I wouldn’t want any child to grow up without a parent due to domestic violence because I lost mine to domestic violence.”
Melvin-Wilson started serving the community at the early age of 3 years old with her grandmother by reading to seniors and delivering canned goods in the community.
“I grew up in poverty, yet my grandmother instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community,” she said. “I exist today because of her.”
Under her grandmother’s tutelage, Melvin-Wilson grew up reading books about African Americans, including George Washington Carver, who taught at Tuskegee University where her grandmother attended school.
“She worked on our writing skills and speaking skills every week, not just in February,” Melvin-Wilson said of the reports and speeches she grew up preparing. “She always said it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re going.”
Melvin-Wilson recalled a key motivational phrase she learned going up which went like “good better best, never let it rest until your good is better, and your best is best.”
Melvin-Wilson earned her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University. She earned her law degree from the University of Iowa.
“My grandmother really believed Vanderbilt was the Harvard of the south,” she said.
Melvin-Wilson returned to Dothan in 2004 to care for her grandmother, who’d suffered a stroke. She passed away a short while later. Melvin-Wilson is married to Lawrence Wilson Jr. She has a 3-year-old daughter, Adiah Lonita Wilson.
“God always has a divine plan,” she said. “I think God’s plan was always for me to come back to Dothan and serve the community.”
Melvin Wilson said she and the lawyers at Legal Services Alabama provide help to residents of seven counties across the Wiregrass. She said those services include debt collection defense, mortgage counseling, wills and simple estate planning and defense for people being evicted. She said people have to meet certain requirements to benefit from the legal services.
“My goal is to provide quality legal services to low-income citizens of the Wiregrass,” she said. “In honor of Martin Luther King and Black History Month, he always used to say ‘serving is the price for living,’ and I honestly believe it.”
Melvin-Wilson currently serves as the president of the Houston County Bar Association. She has several goals while serving as president of the local bar, which include bringing in speakers to enlighten and inspire members and to encourage local lawyers to serve pro-bono.
She also plans to offer a pro-bono clinic in the fall for area residents to get free legal advice.
“I think African American history is American history, and anytime we can recognize those who have overcome adversity to achieve success that’s inspiring,” she said. “I truly believe a little black girl from the projects who’s able to become president of the Houston County Bar Association is a testament to how great America is and how God is.”
Mitchell Dobbs, an attorney with Legal Services Alabama, referred to Melvin-Wilson as a “great mentor.”
“She’s an excellent writer, and she’s very smart. She does such a good job advocating for our clients,” Dobbs said. “She knows so much about the type of law we practice, helping low-income clients, which makes her a valuable asset to the community as well.”
For more information on Legal Services Alabama see legalservicesalabama.org.