On A Mission To Address Racial Injustice

As members of the Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section, we stand in solidarity with our friends and colleagues in the Black community and condemn the tragic and senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and many others. We know that racism is deeply rooted in American society and recognize the devastating impact it has on people of color, from daily indignities and marginalization to the tragic loss of these four lives and so many more. We cannot remain silent in the face of these injustices. As lawyers and advocates, it is our ethical duty to condemn white supremacy and actively work to eliminate racial bias in the justice system.

A key mission of the Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section is to promote racial justice through education, awareness, and advocacy within the North Carolina Bar Association, and most importantly, through our work as child and youth advocates. Several years ago, we established a Racial Justice Committee to directly address the harmful impact of structural racism on children of color across systems, including education, child welfare, and juvenile justice. These systems disproportionately fail children of color, as evidenced by the achievement gap, the overrepresentation of minority children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The failures don’t end there. The repeated and increasingly well-publicized loss of Black lives from violent racial profiling and police brutality is a direct result of racial bias that has largely been sanctioned by the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Far less publicized, but still profoundly devastating, are the daily indignities and microaggressions that Black people—including children and youth—experience in all systems in our society, across all walks of life. This history of racial injustice is why Black people across the world are shouting, screaming, and demanding that their lives matter. We hear you. We stand with you.

Creating the kind of deep, meaningful changes needed to stop these injustices will require bold reflection that both looks inward at our own individual privileges, power, and biases, and outward at the systems in which we operate. And, at the end of the day, it will require action. Courageous, creative, transformative action.

Within our section, we have begun some of this hard, important work, but we still have a long way to go. Our journey began in 2015 when a multiracial group from the Racial Justice Committee attended both Phase I and Phase II of the Racial Equity Institute’s (REI) Racial Equity Workshops. We went into the sessions naively thinking we already had a strong grounding in racial equity. We learned a lot and came away with a newfound understanding of how deeply entrenched and embedded the institution of racism pervades every system. Our committee representatives left the powerful workshops even more committed than ever to transform ourselves as advocates and to revision and remake systems in which we worked.

In May 2019, as a first step in addressing the impact of systemic and institutional racism in our society, our section, in collaboration with the Minorities in the Profession Committee, Criminal Justice and Education Sections, and others, hosted a REI Groundwater Training at the NC Bar Center. The interactive, research-based presentation provided participants with critical knowledge about the impact of systemic and institutional racism in our society in areas such as education, healthcare, and criminal justice. In the half-day Groundwater Approach workshop, trainers used data and stories from a variety of sources to demonstrate the ongoing and pervasive impact of race.

Our work to identify and address structural racism will require an ongoing and dedicated effort to make this issue a priority for all of us.

We are committed to change and believe that the following actions are a step in the right direction:

  • A blog series devoted to sharing the impact of racism from the perspective of our colleagues in the North Carolina Bar Association;
  • A scholarship for NCBA members to attend additional Racial Equity Institute (REI) workshops, which offer more in-depth anti-racist education and training;
  • Annual Groundwater Workshops as part of the orientation of all incoming leadership;
  • A safe space for members, particularly minority attorneys and advocates, to have conversations about racial injustice and how it has impacted their lives and professional work. These spaces should also include a space for white attorneys and advocates to study anti-racism resources compiled by the Association and engage in difficult conversations about power, privilege, and bias. Guidance should be sought from the Minorities in the Profession committee prior to launching any affinity group.
  • A Diversity, Inclusion, & Anti-racism policy—with member input—to serve as a foundation for ongoing equity work within the Association.

We, members of the Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section, stand ready and committed to fighting unjust systems and the structural racism that exists—today and beyond. We see this as our calling, our challenge to ensure that North Carolina’s communities of color get the fair treatment, access and justice they deserve. We will not and cannot stand for any less, for our children’s futures are at stake. Will you join us?