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A Pair of Pink Underwear

December 6, 2009 | Comments Off on A Pair of Pink Underwear

I have the privilege of working with a group of dynamic, motivated students at Harvard Law School who are passionate about Social Justice issues.  We are members of the Black Law Student Association’s Social Justice Committee and have devoted our time this semester to addressing social injustices in the areas of housing, education, and criminal justice.

This year we are approaching these issues from a number of angles, ranging from legislative advocacy to direct services.  This approach has demonstrated to me the value of a multi-pronged plan of attack when it comes to fighting for what you believe in.  There has to be the scholarly approach.  There has to be the legal approach.   And there has to be the direct, on the ground, grassroots approach.  I have seen each of these approaches work beautifully in different situations:

In college, I had the opportunity to take a class called Black Feminisms.  One of our guest lecturers was a brilliant woman named Gina Dent.  Among other causes, she felt particularly excited about abolishing the prison system.  She despised it, found no redeeming qualities in it, and quickly convinced me to feel the same.  Her approach was the scholarly approach — she wrote, lectured, and philosophised about prison in America and sought to mould the thought processes of the young students who would be crucial in the fight against it.  This is the right idea.

Last summer I interned at the Southern Center for Human Rights — a law firm that specializes in death penalty and prison reform cases.  I worked on the civil side of the office and did a lot of investigation for some of the class-action cases the Center is preparing.  This was the legal approach — sometimes changing a system requires speaking the language.  The walls of a prison will only be fortified if you try to bust them down.  Learn the rules and how to change them, and those same walls begin to melt away.  This is the right idea.

The group of law students on the Social Justice Committee who are focusing on education this year have decided to teach a creative writing class at a juvenile detention center in Boston.  This is the direct services/grassroots approach.  We had a meeting with the Director last week, who explained to us the extremely perilous position that the young women in the center are in.  In addition to the criminal charges which landed them there in the first place, they are battling each other, impending abuse on the outside, and the internal battles that are overwhelming for any teenage girl and quite literally destructive for those in their particular situation.  Many of us in the meeting were struck by one thing that the Director said as she described the young women who never received anything when there was a mail call:  All some of them need to feel like someone in this world cares about them is to receive something in the mail — anything at all, like a pair of pink underwear.  This might seem strange that I was struck by the pink underwear, but I believe that the point was beautifully illustrated by the mention of this mundane item:  even a small gesture, one that may seem trivial or that it won’t make that much of a difference, can literally change someone’s outlook on life.  This is the right idea.

I guess I’m making two points here:

1. Any fight — social justice or otherwise — requires a multi-pronged approach that takes advantage of people’s talents, passions, availability, and creativity.  No prong is more or less important than any other and all are critical to make a vision a reality.

2. We can all do something.  It can be big and broad, it can be small and personal.  BUT, we can all do something.


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    Harvard Black Law Students Association presents...
    Social Justice Week

    March 2nd - 6th

    Monday: Social Justice Week Kick-Off

    BLSA general body meeting featuring a special presentation by Noah Hood and the BLSA Social Justice Committee

    Langdell South 7:00 pm

    Dinner will be served

    Tuesday: Education

    Education Awareness Candy Campaign Learn about some of the problems facing Boston's youth, including the unfair and exclusionary expulsion policies

    Harkness Common 12:00 noon

    Wednesday: Housing

    Housing Recovery Acts in MA Some of the areas foremost housing activists will gather to discuss legislation concerning predatory lending practices

    Hauser 101 7:30 pm

    Refreshments will be served

    Thursday: Criminal Justice

    Sealing Criminal Records: Implications for Social Justice

    A panel of the leading voices in criminal justice reform will speak about criminal record information laws.

    Austin Hall 7:00 pm

    A Soul Food Dinner will be served.

    Friday: Criminal Justice

    CORI Sealing Training

    Criminal Record Sealing Training involves hands-on training. Participants will be able to help with upcoming CORI Sealing projects.