What is fair? What is just?
As I recently began my second year as Executive Director at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), I find myself asking those questions almost daily. With the disparate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on communities of color and our country’s long overdue conversations about structural racism, I think of these important questions. What does it mean to have a fair and just system? How do we build it? And what role does the law have to ensure an equitable society?
Fairness and justice have been closely held values of mine since middle school.
The summer before I started seventh grade, the school board announced they would be eliminating volleyball (the only girls fall sport) and keeping football (the only boys fall sport).
My mom decided that this action was unfair and unjust. You see, Title IX had been passed 10 years before, and she knew what the local school board was doing was wrong and illegal. No one else in the community spoke up, except my mom. She went to the school officials and explained that they were violating the law. They didn’t care.
My mom could have stopped there. She lives in a small community and she was putting the boys football program at risk with her complaints, but she continued to stand up because she knew it was wrong. Before cell phones and the Internet, she tracked down the Ohio Department of Education and filed a complaint. Because of my mom, I played volleyball that fall.
Just like my mom, your actions matter. When you choose to donate to an organization like MVLS, you are taking a stand on the side of fairness and justice.
My mom taught me a lot about standing up when it’s not easy. She taught me about being brave even when you don’t feel brave on the inside, and she showed me how to use my voice for doing what is right and good. She instilled in me to fight for what is fair and just. And most of all- she proved the power that just one person can have to make a difference for others.
I’ve carried that lesson with me, and it informs my work every day at MVLS. Over the past several months, we’ve seen Black and Brown individuals and families face the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis with much higher rates of infections and deaths, as well as financial devastation. In light of the killing of George Floyd, I recognize that myself and the MVLS organization have a role in changing a legal system that leaves far too many struggling in a system that often does not have fair or just outcomes.
When I took a call in 2014 from a homeowner who was losing her home to tax sale, I could have told her that case was outside the scope of our foreclosure project, given her some referrals and moved on. But my mom’s voice was in my head, and reminded me that this desperate woman on the phone was about to lose everything over a small delinquent bill. And someone needed to stand up to a perverse system that seizes homes from primarily Black communities, leaving vacant properties in its wake and further destabilizing neighborhoods. What was happening was wrong, and someone needed to fight for her. Since that date, MVLS has greatly expanded our focus of working in partnership with community members to help stem the ongoing wealth extraction from Black communities.
You value fairness and justice, I know you do. You can help us challenge these policies and disrupt the cycle of Black wealth extraction. Please consider sending a donation of $100 to help MVLS fight for what is right and just.
The work we do at MVLS is hard and what looms ahead is daunting as we anticipate a great demand for legal services in our communities. We will keep asking what is fair and just, and will continue to bring a deep commitment to ensuring a just legal system for every individual. As we seek to do more, help more, influence more, and make crucial changes to a flawed legal system, I hope you will join me.
My mom taught me that one strong-willed woman can take on a flawed system, just imagine what we can do together. Thank you.
P.S. As the daughter of a security guard and a secretary, I understand about making difficult financial choices. Becoming a Champion for Justice with a monthly gift is an easy way you can provide critical support without taking a toll on your budget. With a $10 or $20 a month commitment, you can ensure that MVLS will continue to seek to provide justice for all. To make your monthly gift you can fill out the attached reply slip and mail back in the enclosed postage-paid envelope or give online mvlslaw.org/championsforjustice. Thank you!