Column – Longshot made the most of his chance
Published 12:07 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023
Need some inspiration for 2024? Settle in for the story of Dante Wright.
Like many success stories, Wright’s is one of good fortune and fortitude, each vital to an outcome that will warm your heart.
Much is made in this country of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and I take the point. “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” sings the Raleigh band American Aquarium. It’s also true that a lot hard-working people bust their butts their entire lives and never catch a break.
Dante Wright caught his at age 4, the youngest of seven kids in a single-parent household in Surry County. He chased after an older brother who had taken Dante’s bicycle, darting into the street at the very moment General District Court Judge Gammiel Poindexter was driving by on her way home from work.
She’d passed the Wright home hundreds of times but didn’t know the family. That day, she stopped her car to escort the boys out of harm’s way and back into their yard.
“This very moment, which was a complete happenchance, would define the next 26 years of my life,” Wright told me.
The year was 1997, and Gammiel had been a judge for just a couple of years. She developed an instant bond with Wright and his siblings that day.
“Not long after, she began taking us to the skating rink, Chippokes State Park and many more adventures,” Wright said. “She even purchased a large van so that there was enough space to transport us all around. I now had my birth mother, my older siblings and a woman who appeared to have been sent from the heavens to look after us.”
Misfortune was just around the corner.
In 1998, Wright and his siblings were removed from the custody of their mother by Child Protective Services and sent to separate homes. Dante, then 5, landed with initially his grandmother but would spend the next decade bouncing from one relative to another, one city to another, attending five different schools during his most formative years.
Flash forward to the 10th grade, when Judge Poindexter learned of Dante’s turbulent existence and arranged for him to come back to Surry and live with her and her husband, the late Gerald Poindexter.
“I was elated and took them up on their offer,” Wright said. “Finally, after 10 years of chaos, I had stability in my home life.”
He graduated with honors from Surry County High and went to Virginia State University on an academic scholarship. During his senior year at Virginia State, Wright took stock.
“To be quite frank, I was further in life than I ever expected to be,” he said. “My parents didn’t finish high school, let alone considered ever graduating from college. Yet here I was, 21 years old, and on the cusp of accomplishing something I thought was impossible for someone from my background.”
In that “conversation with myself,” the next step became clear.
“I decided to bury my self-doubt and apply for law school,” he said. “The idea seemed absurd to me. I mean, who was I kidding? How was I supposed to get into law school? Neither of my parents finished high school. When I lived with my mother, we had no money and had to accept government benefits. Was I the type of person that belonged in someone’s school of law? I certainly didn’t think so, but the Poindexters convinced me that I did.”
Wright graduated with honors in 2018 from North Carolina Central’s School of Law and passed the District of Columbia bar examination on his first attempt.
“This was the culmination of all my hard work and I was in disbelief that I pulled it off,” he said. “However, the work was still not done. There was something more important that I needed to do.”
In 2020, he returned home to Virginia and passed his second bar examination on the first attempt. And thanks to Vincent L. Robertson Sr., the former commonwealth’s attorney of Sussex County, and Regina Sykes, the current commonwealth’s attorney of Sussex County, he landed a job as a prosecutor in the same county that Judge Poindexter worked in when she met Dante all those years ago.
He spent the next 2½ years learning “how to litigate, how to be creative with cases, and most importantly, how to be a competent attorney.”
This summer, he had a thought that would bring this inspiring story full circle.
“Judge Poindexter had retired from the bench in 2007, but she still did a little work with her law practice,” he said.”I began to think: ‘What if she and I could become law partners? Would she accept me as a law partner? Does she still have the same faith in me that she always did?’ ”
He built up enough courage and asked her if she would go into business with him as her law partner.
“I was floored by her acceptance and it took me some time to process it all,” he said. “This woman, whom I met by absolute coincidence at age 4, was now going to open a law firm alongside me 26 years later.”
This month, the mentor and mentee reopened the doors to her office in Surry County, as well as a second location in Smithfield. They specialize in criminal defense, personal injury and family law.
Wright calls it “the story of a longshot — the story of someone who had a rough start, but still persevered amid overwhelming adversity.”
“I hope that it inspires someone,” he told me.
I told him it had already had.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.