Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Strengthening Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Street Law

As Street Law continues to be part of the solution combating racial injustice, it’s important that we reflect on our internal efforts to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) within our programs and curricula.

In 2019, Street Law increased its focus on DE&I by beginning work with a consultant who reviewed three of our programs.

The consultant, Val Brown, first became acquainted with Street Law’s work in June 2019 at the All Y’all Conference, where she attended a Legal Life Skills workshop led by Yolanda Johnson, our Senior Director of Community Initiatives, and Legal Life Skills partner Joseph Cordova, Equal Justice Works Fellow of Florida Legal Services.

After participating in a lesson that explored the history of due process in the juvenile justice system, Val was intrigued. She recognized Street Law was well-positioned to bring important legal and civic education to those who are vulnerable to injustice, and, after getting to know Val, Street Law saw she was uniquely qualified to help us strengthen our work.

Not long after that introduction, Val signed on to help Street Law identify opportunities to improve DE&I in three of our program areas: Teacher Professional Development, the Legal Life Skills Program, and the Police & Teens Program. As an experienced educator, anti-bias professional development facilitator, and founder of the #ClearTheAir community, Val brought a deep well of experience to her consulting work with Street Law.

“I was drawn to Street Law’s commitment to helping students understand the judicial system and teaching them how to engage in critical dialogue,” Val said. “All educators should be familiar with Street Law, especially now."

After a thorough DE&I examination of Street Law resources and program models, Val identified several opportunities for strengthening Street Law’s program framework.

Using Val’s recommendations, Street Law has begun implementing a number of changes that will improve the quality, reach, and impact of our programming on communities of color.

Teacher Professional Development Programs and Curriculum: Val’s findings focused on strategies to help Street Law reach more teachers who have historically encountered barriers to our teacher professional development. To begin to remove these barriers, Val suggested strategies such as establishing and funding scholarships with the goal of attracting additional teachers of color to the Supreme Court Summer Institute.

 Val also helped us explore strategies to better support current Street Law educators as they work to improve their teaching practice—especially as they bring topics related to racial and social identity into their classrooms.

Street Law has begun to implement these strategies. At a February 2020 teacher training in St. Louis, teachers participated in the first Street Law community agreements-building session, which supported deeper, more thoughtful examination of the recent Supreme Court cases on LGBT employment discrimination.

More recently, Street Law updated a criminal law-themed lesson and workshop to integrate a “Lived Civics” approach. Currently in development is a resource to support educators in teaching Street Law’s materials about race and social identity.

"Street Law can and should be proud of their curriculum materials,” Val said. “The strategy we focused on is how to get them into the hands of students and teachers who do not have the same access or opportunity, and how to prepare teachers to create the classroom conditions for these critical conversations."

Street Law and Val identified several priorities to help strengthen and grow DE&I efforts in the Legal Life Skills and Police & Teens Programs, including:

  • Cultivating an “organizer” mindset among program volunteers.
  • Identifying ways to strengthen and include youth voice in program design and implementation. Young people are our largest stakeholder and should serve alongside program leaders as advocates and organizers.
  • Integrating sensitivity and awareness building into our training offerings for all volunteers. We must ensure our partners and volunteers are able to demonstrate a competent level of cultural sensitivity and awareness to people of color and other disenfranchised populations.
  • Lobbying for additional support for full program implementation so these programs can fill the pressing need for civic education for marginalized students.

Legal Life Skills Program: Street Law’s Legal Life Skills Program works to empower society's most vulnerable people with legal knowledge and civic skills needed to help them advocate for themselves and navigate life.

 This year, we provided three virtual discussions with representatives from participating organizations and agencies. Creating a forum for program leaders from across the country helps build a foundation for sharing best practices, resources, and troubleshooting challenges—resulting in stronger programs that reach more of the young people who need them.

 Police & Teens Program: By equipping police officers to explore issues of justice with young people, this curriculum program creates a two-way dialogue that builds understanding, awareness, empathy, and respect. Currently, we are strategically assessing this program and its curriculum to ensure it is sensitive and inclusive of the needs and concerns of young people and communities of color.

Street Law is currently exploring ways to build ambassadors for both the Legal Life Skills and Police & Teens Programs that include young people who can help to inform the future of both programs.

Street Law is committed to expanding our efforts to build our capacity to provide and deliver culturally diverse and inclusive programming to our partners and participants.

We encourage our stakeholders to join us in these efforts. If you have suggestions you’d like to share, or you’d like to partner with us in any way, please contact jwheeler@streetlaw.org.

Image: Val Brown headshot

Image Caption: In 2019, Street Law increased its focus on DE&I by beginning work with a consultant who reviewed three of our programs.