39th Annual Bellarmine Award Luncheon: Duane Deskins ’72May 12, 2017
The Bellarmine Award, named in honor of St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J., recognizes an alumnus for excellence in the legal field, promotion of fair and ethical principles in law, and exemplary service to Saint Ignatius High School.
Register for the 39th Annual Bellarmine Luncheon on June 1, 2017 at www.ignatius.edu/bellarmineLuncheon.
Duane Deskins ’72 had never been to the west side of Cleveland before visiting Saint Ignatius. He had never met a lawyer before going to college – and he certainly never aspired to be one. But unexpected and invaluable moments of grace led to a successful legal career built on “doing great things in this world, but always for the greater glory of God.”
Duane grew up in Cleveland’s Glenville and Shaker Square neighborhoods as an only child of divorced parents. After Our Lady of Peace grade school, his mother, Beatrice, made a firm decision: He would attend Saint Ignatius High School. “She was the driving force in my life. She believed Jesuit education was like no other in the world and she wanted me to get one,” recalls Duane.
As the first African American in Boston College Undergraduate Student Government, Duane met “a distinguished group of lawyers who had a really positive effect on me, especially the late David Nelson, the only African-American federal district court judge in Massachusetts and a Boston College Trustee.” As a result, Duane was inspired to attend Boston College law school and began mentoring young people in a city struggling with juvenile crime.
Duane became an attorney for the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., and thought his career path was set – until taking his mother on a “thank you” vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. When accommodations didn’t live up to the price, he ended up in a small claims court in D.C. Passing by a nearby courtroom, he was captivated by a federal prosecutor who was trying a drug case. “It was as if the heavens opened up and the angels sang. This is what I want to do!”
After training in Los Angeles, Duane worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston and Chicago. He directed more than 1,000 criminal investigations, prosecuted hundreds of cases, and helped shape and implement strategies to reduce violent crime. But when his mother became ill in 2001, he returned to Cleveland for the last months of her life, calling it “absolutely the best thing I ever did.”
In the Cleveland U.S. Attorney’s Office, Duane led a Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative that reduced crime rates dramatically and was shared as a model around the country. In 2013, he joined the County Prosecutor’s Office leading as Chief Prosecutor in the Juvenile Division, creating a gang unit that went to juvenile detention centers and the streets to find and prosecute more than 350 gang members. Later, he became the First Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. “But after years of listening to stories, I knew the negative turn begins when folks are very young,” so he worked on crime prevention initiatives with police chiefs and community groups to give at-risk youth better options.
In December 2016 Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson selected Duane to serve in a new position as Chief of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth & Young Adults. “I’m so excited – because we’re looking at violence as a symptom using the Public Health Model, like a communicable disease” says Duane. “We’re using a public health model to create opportunities and drive down violence.”
Looking at the “master plan” to his life, Duane has come to believe “if you give of your time and talent, doors open that you wouldn’t expect.” He’s continued to give back at Saint Ignatius as a board member and on search committees that selected Fr. Murphy and Fr. Guiao.
Duane honors the memory of his mother Beatrice Deskins. His close family includes cousins Dr. Linda Adams and Dr. Ron Bradley, Alvin and Pat Bradley, Ron Adams, Bob and Linda Deskins, Ralph and Jean Deskins, Catana Deskins, Brandon Chrostowski, and Sabrina and Dennis Roberts.