“We’re facing big problems — as a community, as a state, as a country, as a world — but the folks who tell you that it’s hopeless are wrong.”BENET MAGNUSON, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
When Benet Magnuson joined Kansas Appleseed in 2013 as its executive director he pretty much had only himself to supervise. But within a couple of years the social justice nonprofit had a dozen staffers working all over the state.
“To be able to engage in really meaningful approaches to the work, we had to be of a certain size,” Magnuson explained about the advocacy group, which is dedicated to protecting the rights of Kansans through research, community organizing, and impact litigation.
Magnuson was anxious to get to that work. Trained as a lawyer, he’d previously handled cases involving immigration, public housing, and domestic violence, and he had worked at a criminal justice coalition in Texas. When the Kansas native began reading about fiscal problems in the state forcing major cuts to education and social programs, he decided it was time to return home.
In Magnuson’s first few years at Kansas Appleseed, the organization worked on solutions to childhood hunger, ensuring the legal needs of immigrants, and fighting for the rights of children in foster care. With their new size, Magnuson and his team looked to take on larger issues.
“A report came out about one of our state juvenile prisons that showed it was a very unsafe place for kids,” Magnuson explained. “They were able to harm each other, harm staff, harm themselves. A follow-up report that year also found that they were not getting any of the educational programing that they were entitled to.”