It has been an honor to become the very first recipient of the Amber Racine Fellowship as a law student intern at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. I never had the opportunity to meet Amber Racine, but I had certainly heard about her prior to becoming a fellow. I remember the outpouring of love from Temple Law School after her passing. This prompted me to learn more about her work both within the courtroom and outside the courtroom. I was thoroughly impressed with her legal/professional achievements which were all accomplished at such a young age. I was equally, if not more, impressed with her work in the community and her dedication to nurturing young attorneys of color. I was extremely humbled by this fellowship opportunity because I am essentially standing on the shoulders of an individual that successfully traversed through the path I am trying to follow. I will always be appreciative and honored to be the first Amber Racine Fellow.
This summer, I worked with Community Legal Services’ Youth Justice Project (“YJP”) under the supervision of Attorney Tracie Johnson. I chose to work in this unit because of a long-held passion of working with youth. Aiding in solving some of their legal issues was an opportunity I looked forward to. I have been able to work with youth to secure resources and benefits that will aid them during these difficult times. I have also aided in the advocacy of policy changes within Job Corps which is a program for youth to get educational and vocational training.
I recently closed a case for a youth client who was cut off from accessing much needed Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUA) benefits. The client was a 17-year-old young woman who had lost her first job due to the pandemic and had been denied regular Unemployment Compensation because she was not financially eligible. She applied for PUA and was receiving benefits until her account was flagged for an IP investigation. The Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) were requiring her to verify her identity through a third-party vendor, ID.me, whose software is not accessible to anyone under the age of 18. This presented a barrier to resolving the issue on her claim for the 17-year-old client. Upon reviewing her portal, we learned that the client had already uploaded the required identifying documents, so I advocated with a contact at DLI, informing them that the client was unable to complete the ID.me process because of her age and had already uploaded all of the necessary documents therefore they should release her payments immediately. The following day, they resolved the issue on her claim and released her payments. After this advocacy, the client received almost $4,000 she was owed since the time her payments were shut off.
Not only have I worked with the Youth Justice Project, I also worked with attorneys in other units as well. I have written memos that dealt with complicated legal issues, which have taught me even more about the difficult legal challenges that exist for many people. The most shocking was the discovery that SSI benefits meant for the welfare and wellbeing of youth in foster care are often diverted and used by states to reimburse themselves for care of children within foster care. I learned about this disturbing practice while sitting in a Congressional meeting where I heard awful stories from youth who were victims of this practice. Needless to say, I relished an opportunity to do research and write on this topic for CLS. As this advocacy moves forward, I will be proud that, even in a small way, I was able to help.
I have also had the privilege to shadow Holly Beck, an attorney in the Housing Unit, who showed me around Municipal Court and also allowed me to sit in on some of her cases. I learned about housing law but, more importantly, I was able to see an attorney that cared about her clients and spoke to them as human beings, rather than another case. All of the attorneys that I have met while interning at CLS have been that way. It has truly been an honor to be among them and to see how much they care about their clients. It has affirmed my goal of becoming an attorney, one that works for/protects their clients and continues that work outside of the courtroom as well.