When she was 5, Constance “Connie” Nelson experienced injustice and it motivated her to pursue justice for all.
As the then-little girl walked to school one day with her mother, a few old men sitting on a porch yelled out to her, making a derogatory comment that targeted both her race and religion.
Connie walked the rest of the way to school in emotional turmoil. She sat at her desk at school that day confused and upset.
“I asked myself, ‘Why did they say this to me? Why didn’t my mother yell back at them for insulting us?’” Nelson said.
Though it took place nearly four decades ago, Nelson believes the incident set her on the path to becoming an attorney, a humanitarian and a leader in the Lehigh Valley community.
In November, Nelson was given the 2018 African American Business Leader’s Award by the African American Business Leaders Council, which is an organization within the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. As she accepted the award, she says that she thought of those old men on the porch and how their negative comments made a positive impact on her life.
A native of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Nelson, 43, earned her undergraduate degree with a double major in criminal justice and criminology studies from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She then went on to get her law degree from Widener University in Wilmington, Delaware.
Nelson has been a practicing attorney for the last 17 years. She began her career as the chief prosecutor of white-collar crime for the Northampton County District Attorney’s office. She was there for 13 years until, she said, needed a change of pace.
In 2013, she left the DA’s office to join The Law Offices of Peter Angelos P.C. in Bethlehem as an asbestos litigator – a two-year stint that included work on cases involving former Bethlehem Steel employees and their families.
In May 2015, she became a general practice attorney at Gross McGinley LLP in Allentown, where she handles family law, criminal defense, estates and general litigation matters. She also provides guidance on real estate matters, including property settlement and landlord-tenant agreements.
“I enjoy the legal range and do not want to stick with just one area of the law,” Nelson says.
She also serves on the board of organizations such as Third Street Alliance for Women and Children, North Penn Legal Services and the Bar Association of Lehigh County. Nelson said she views her involvement in the community as an extension of her pursuit for justice.
Defending others comes instinctively to her, she said.
She cites a recent incident where she found herself standing up for an inmate at a local jail. During a visit to the prison, she saw a little girl sitting in the visitation area waiting to see her mother. When the guards brought the woman out to meet her daughter, she was in shackles. Nelson said she felt that was unacceptable. Nelson requested that the guards remove the shackles and they obliged.
“Who I am and what I represent goes back to the embarrassment and shame I experienced as a girl walking to school with her mom. I have never forgotten that experience,” Nelson says. “When I see someone experiencing the same shame I need to help them defend themselves.”
Lehigh Valley Business: Do you see yourself as a business leader? How important is it for you to be seen as an African American business leader in the community?
Constance Nelson: I am proud to be a business leader. It is very important for me to be seen as an African American business leader because of what it means for the young people growing up that are of the same race. I want to be a role model. If I can do, so can you. But it is even more important to be recognized among my peers and to be seen as a female business leader, recognized as an equal by men in the business world.
LVB: You are involved in several organizations in the Lehigh Valley. Is there one organization that stands out for you as being the most significant?
Nelson: All of these organizations are so different and diverse and all have their impact. You know, I used to be part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I decided to step down from that organization to be on the board of North Penn Legal Services. The only reason I stepped down is because I could not do it all. I am also on the board of directors for the Bar Association of Lehigh County. We provide legal assistance to 21 counties and it is so pertinent to daily life.
The Third Street Alliance is just a great organization in Easton. It helps families who are desperately in need of assistance. It doesn’t just offer shelter services and housing. It provides resources for education and to help people get back on their feet. It gives young children, who would otherwise not have the opportunity, the option to go through a pre-kindergarten program,
LVB: Do you intend to stay in the legal field for the rest of your professional career?
Nelson: I would like to continue in the legal profession in some capacity. But I will say that I do want to get into politics. [She declined to elaborate].
LVB: What can you tell us about the African American Business Council? How does it empower people in the community?
Nelson: The business council is a nice way for members to build their business, to expand their reach in the community and just get out and network. So, they hold mixers and events with speakers that talk on important, timely topics. It helps to empower people, helps them gain recognition for their business and provides better networking opportunities in the Lehigh Valley.
Constance “Connie” Nelson
- Organization: Gross McGinley LLP in Allentown.
- Position: Associate
- Hometown: Phillipsburg, New Jersey
- Favorites: Jazz music, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, traveling the world and dogs. (She said she once took in a puppy for a day but could not keep it due to her busy schedule).
- When you brag about Lehigh Valley: It is a great place to raise kids. There are a lot of good schools and educational opportunities, and we have a lot to offer in the way of venues, entertainment and local attractions.
- Fantasy dinner guest: Former First Lady Michelle Obama, because she just seems so cool and down-to-earth.
- Guilty pleasures: Chocolate cake and red wine
- Dream vacation: African safari, but it is so expensive
- When you were a child, you wanted to be: An attorney
- Something your co-workers don’t know about you: They know what I want them to know, and if I did not already tell them, then it is because I do not want them to know.
- Biggest inspiration: It really goes back to injustice and fighting against injustice. I get very angry over it.
- What makes a great day: Winning in court. Winning in general. I like to go home and feel that I accomplished something. I like to defend the good guys – whatever that means.