- A California woman was inspired by her brother’s murder conviction to study law, so she enrolled at Southwestern Law School.
- The woman, A.B. Burns-Tucker, is slated to graduate in 2023.
- She has also launched a TikTok account where she breaks down current affairs in a way that’s easier for young people, especially Black people, to understand.
A.B. Burns-Tucker watched as her brother Brandon was convicted of murder as a teenager.
He was sentenced to 50 years to life and convicted based on a law that lets the state prosecute everyone who was “in on” a crime or knew it was happening.
Burns-Tucker vowed to change the system from within and enrolled at Southwestern Law School. Then in 2020, she began filming TikTok videos about current events to help young Black people like herself better understand them.
She has amassed more than 630,000 followers on the video sharing site and her skills have even earned her an invitation to the White House, where she met the president and vice president.
Burns-Tucker, a 33-year-old mother of one, says her videos resonate with people because she speaks just like she would with her friends and family, sans the code switching (or changing the way she speaks).
Among the catchphrases she uses to start her videos is the ever-so-popular “Okay, so BOOM!”
One of her first videos to do big numbers was about Ukraine and Russia, but she has also talked about current affairs such as inflation, healthcare and international relations between China and the U.S.
Her videos help her reach an audience that likely otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to current events, she said.
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Why did she start making the videos?
While studying law, Burns-Tucker found that it was pretty difficult to understand some of the “archaic” legalese. “I would be looking up every other word in the dictionary,” she said. “To help myself and help my friends, I would just make a story out of it.”
So when discussing cases, she might say, “The court is mad because ol’ boy took ol’ girl across the state.”
Calling it a “survival tactic” as a law student (first generation, at that), Burns-Tucker said she doesn’t write that way during exams, but it helps her retain the info.
“I know we code-switch when we go outside and go to work and things like that,” she told USA TODAY. “But when you’re in your own zone … that’s how I relate to my community and the people I hang out with.”
Her brother’s case is what led her to pursue law in the first place, she said. Just a teenager at the time, he had two trials.
As Burns-Tucker watched them unfold, she was confused by the intricacies of the law. He was convicted based on the state’s aiding and abetting law, which says the defendant is guilty of a crime if they knew the perpetrator’s intentions.
“Basically the D.A.’s argument was ‘Brandon wasn’t the person that shot the victim, but he was there with the co-defendant, the person who actually shot him, so that makes him just as guilty,'” she said.
At the time, it was rare for her to see other Black people in the courtroom if they weren’t defendants, so she set out to learn as much as she could about the law.
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Why are her videos so popular?
Burns-Tucker’s videos are quite popular because she uses African American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE. It’s a specific style of speech that has its own grammatical structure, pronunciation, and vocabulary, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Linguists say AAVE’s roots lie in the South; it became more common as Black people migrated north in the early and mid-20th century, wrote sociolinguist Walt Wolfram in his paper “The grammar of urban African American Vernacular English.”
Notable examples of AAVE include distinct uses of be and done, he wrote.
For example, someone using AAVE might say:
- “Sometimes they be playing games.”
- “They done used all the good ones.”
- “I been had it for about three years.”
- “I been known him.”
Burns-Tucker said she used to be insecure about the way she spoke and her use of AAVE.
“I’ve got a Stanford brain, but Compton grammar,” she said. “I’m really, really smart, but sometimes the way I speak may not be as proper, I guess. What I’m finding is people love me for that, and they appreciate me for that.”
What have responses been like?
When Burns-Tucker speaks this way in her videos and breaks down current affairs, responses are typically positive. The videos have even been played during classes at her school, she said.
And while she had previously attended content creator press briefings at the White House via Zoom, she was invited to one in person on Sept. 13. There, she posted a video with fellow content creator Vitus “V” Spehar, host of @UnderTheDeskNews.
Burns-Tucker is glad her platform has allowed her to reach so many people.
“For so long, we have been told talking like that is ghetto,” she said. “What I’m learning is more people speak like that than don’t. More people can understand that way. … There’s not a community that feels left out.”
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.