By Mikelina Belaineh, J.D. ’16
I became involved with the Child Advocacy Clinic (CAP) through a less than traditional path. The clinic was something I had always wanted to enroll in, because I was interested in exploring juvenile justice work and the role that positive youth development could and should play in juvenile justice reform and intervention. This led me to be more interested in CAP rather than a criminal defense focused clinic. I wanted to explore the various alternatives to litigation as a form of “lawyering” for social justice and change.
Despite this interest in the clinic, I never seemed to have the time or room in my schedule. This semester was no different, except this time it wasn’t credit hours holding me back. I was fortunate enough to have received an offer from a start up, non-profit organization, InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW), to come in at “ground level” and help them continue to build this growing organization. ICW’s mission is to help students in the Boston area succeed by providing a positive alternative to the streets. This was a non-profit that I had been volunteering for and hoping to join full time upon graduation. Although I was hired in a program development role, I also saw a great opportunity to help ICW grow by further utilizing my legal background.
Every ICW student faces a variety of legal barriers to their success, whether it’s a pending case, probation/parole, family law issues; the list goes on. Therefore, in addition to helping further design and structure ICW’s model, and guiding the organization into a new period of growth and expansion, I will be taking the lead in researching and trying to implement structures within the organization to further support students in navigating the various legal barriers they face. However, there was one thing holding me back from being able to commit. The organization needed someone to start working in the winter and continue throughout the spring semester, at least on a part time basis. This is where my involvement with CAP began.
Cheryl Bratt, who teaches in the Child Advocacy Clinic, took the time to meet with me and gave me the opportunity to explain my goals about the project and the work I would be doing in the clinic. She helped me develop a concrete project, and has been a great partner in brainstorming and supporting my work with ICW more broadly as it relates to my future position with them. My project with the clinic is to: 1) Identify the most prevalent legal issues or barriers in our students lives; 2) Research and develop methods that ICW could incorporate into it’s structure to address these issues; 3) Develop a proposal for the executive team and board of directors, explaining what methods I think can and should be implemented.
The clinic has been one of the highlights of my law school experience. It’s one of the few times I’ve experienced a piece of the institution really going out of it’s way to support me in pursuing what I came to law school for: discovering my place in the movement for social change. I’ve not only found support through Cheryl as a supervisor, but my peers in the clinic have been incredible sources of information, brainstorming, resources, networking, and the list could go on. I came in thinking it was simply going to allow me to do the work I was hired to do, but what I got was so much more. The clinic has given me the opportunity to do work I’m passionate about, develop skills that will directly relate to the work I’ll be doing after graduating, and has been an incredible learning experience. The clinic literally changed my life in the law, and it’s something I’m always going to be grateful for.