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Mama, I Made It To Harvard

"My Summer Working at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau"

"See where I come from, we had to beat the streets, beat the system, beat racism, beat poverty, and now we made it through all that, we at the Championship."

Meek Mill x Championships

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (I will refer to it as “the Bureau” or HLAB”) is a legal clinic of student lawyers which throughout the school year, is completely operated and managed by Harvard Law students only. It’s a very prestigious program at Harvard Law since 1913 and once you’re accepted during your 1L year, you work there from your 2L year until you graduate at the end of your 3L year. During the summer, they select students from other law schools to be summer attorneys, which is me. (Also, Michelle Obama worked there during her time at Harvard Law and highlighted it twice in her book “Becoming.”)

When I told my family I’d be working at Harvard for the summer, they made me feel like I was on top of the world and had finally made it to the championship. First, I know many people want to know, “How did you get to work at HARVARD?” That’s really a testimony within itself. I applied for the Bureau in August 2018 through an application process for this national public interest legal job fair. I interviewed with them in October at the actual fair, in Washington, DC. I had 11 interviews, was even offered a job on the spot for one position, and didn’t interview with Harvard until the last time slot before the fair ended. It was my last interview and the fair’s last interview. What’s crazy is I received an email asking me to send a list of my references to them about 15 minutes BEFORE the interview which had my nerves shot because I thought they made a mistake and didn’t realize they didn’t even interview me lol. God is intentional though. Nevertheless, my 10 minute interview on a Saturday went well. Literally, the NEXT day, on Sunday, I had a preliminary offer contingent on a reference check! That same day, my references (beautiful lawyers who I love) started contacting me like, “Girl Harvard reached out to me for a reference, you go girl!” and I was too hype. It all happened so quickly. Monday morning, TWO DAYS AFTER THE INTERVIEW, I received an official offer letter “to be part of the Summer 2019 Counsel at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.”

It was on and poppin' after that........Well not really.

You would think I accepted the offer immediately, right? I didn’t. Yes I was tripping. I did formally accept the offer (obviously) but it was 4 long days later, after much deliberation and a personal worship experience with God, and after my mama, daddy, cousins, and mentor (y’all already know, Dr. Jones), got me together. See, in law school, they push the idea of working at a firm so you can make a lot of money and yada yada ya, but that’s not really my calling. I came to law school to WORK FOR MY PEOPLE and unfortunately, that field just doesn’t pay a lot. So, I also interviewed with this really dope civil rights firm and told myself, okay if I DO work at a firm, this is the one. It was such a good interview, and the firm does such great work that aligns with my values, and basically, I just KNEW I would be offered a job there. I began contemplating accepting Harvard too quickly and missing out on an opportunity to work at this firm, where I’d get paid, be close to home, and do civil rights work. Guess what y’all? TO THIS DAY, I have yet to receive an offer OR denial letter from them. They just left me hanging. LOL once again, God is so intentional. Like everybody told me, girl forget that firm, we’re talking about HARVARD here. Do you know how many firms will want to offer you a job after you work there?

Before I even accepted, my cousins were already telling people I was GOING to Harvard, as in I would be a student there or something. And after I accepted and announced on social media, my friends definitely thought the same thing. I even had to post this picture on my IG story to clarify lol.

But the thing is, I get it! Elite, Ivy League schools are known not to accept or hire people of color. Especially people who don’t fit the mold of “smart, wealthy, white guy.” So this wasn’t just a big deal for me, it was and still is a big deal for US. And I humbly accept that fact.

Okay fast forward to my time working here. I’m currently 7 days away from getting on a plane to leave Boston. I am still in awe sometimes when I walk this magnificent campus and buildings. I won’t go into many details about my time in the city because I didn’t quite enjoy Boston (I miss the South soooo much). But this is a post about what I did at the Bureau, who I worked with, and how it’s been AMAZING.

As I’ve tried to explain often on social media, it’s been a blessing to work here. Not only am I at HARVARD, but I’m also a STUDENT ATTORNEY. What that means is I had to take two courses, Professional Responsibility and Evidence, and fill out a certification form so the state of Massachusetts could approve and allow me to practice as an attorney, underneath a supervising attorney of course, for the summer. And that’s what I have done!

I’ve been an attorney in the Housing Unit. We represented clients who were facing eviction or foreclosure, who may or may not have been on subsidized housing. It’s been a sobering and rewarding summer. No matter what city you’re in, people of color and low income are facing gentrification and unfair housing barriers. Texas has it bad, Louisiana has it bad, and yes, Massachusetts too. What’s even more wild here is that as of 1995 there is NO rent control, or no rent caps. This means a landlord can pick a number out of the sky and charge his/her tenants that amount. It’s all within reason, but not really. Most landlords try to base the rent on the average rent or value of homes in that area but literally, landlords will come in one month and raise rent $500-$1000 and the tenants either have to pay or are forced to move out. Some of the tenants facing this have been living in their home for YEARS. And, if they can’t afford rent, do you think they can afford a lawyer? Not only that, but landlords can evict tenants for “No Fault” here, meaning they evict tenants because of nothing that the tenant has done but because the landlord has "good cause" such as she/he “needs to remodel,” or “move in myself,” or “sell the property,” and the list goes on and on.

I can’t go into too many details about specific clients or cases because of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality rules I have to abide by but I can go into a few details about different processes and experiences. I had 9 cases which turned into 7 after I passed two over to another colleague. 3 of those cases have consumed most of my time. And whew, I have worked.

I almost litigated my first trial. Most people think that going to trial is frequent and easy. First of all, it’s very rare that a case actually goes to trial and second, it’s SO MUCH WORK AND SO STRESSFUL AND SO TIME CONSUMING! I almost went to trial means we (me, my co counsel, and supervising attorney) spent weeks preparing, prepping our clients, writing out all of our direct examination and cross examination questions, etc. and then went to court on the day of trial, selected a jury twice on two separate days (this is not normal), and finally settled the case on the third day. Although I didn’t go to trial, I went into negotiation and mediation for 3 days and became the supreme negotiator for my clients. If they were going to be forced to move, it was going to have to be worth it. I have never stood up to opposing counsel (OC) the way I did that week. I had to stand my ground, force the OC to listen, and advocate for the realities of my clients.

Another case has me deep into discovery — this is the process where both parties in a case send each other their evidence and information before going to trial so that each are aware of what’s coming, subject to certain privilege and confidential rules of course — and y’all I could just scream. We are up against some big firms and institutions who just will NOT send over their information! It’s like pulling teeth. I’ve been so frustrated because wow, not only have you tried to force someone out of their home and you see nothing wrong with that, but now you’re making the legal process difficult. But guess who is not letting up? Me and my supervising attorney. We are two women who are not backing down!

The most beautiful part of my experience has been Tuesdays - Thursdays of each week. The Housing attorneys are also involved with a local tenant’s union, City Life/Vida Urbana. This organization is so beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s not just a union but a movement that advocates for tenants, supports them in and out of court, and then teaches them to become advocates for others throughout the entire process. I always state that some of the leaders in the organization know more of the law than me and should go to law school. They have two nightly community meetings, one on Tuesdays and one on Wednesdays in different areas of the town. The student attorneys at HLAB leave work and attend these meetings to speak with anyone who is at the meeting that may need legal advice. We talk to them about their case and although we can’t represent them, we provide free legal advice on what they should do next. I have met some hardworking, stressed, and nearly defeated people at these meetings who walk out feeling confident and like champions thanks to City Life! On Thursday mornings and afternoons, the attorneys at HLAB volunteer as “Attorneys for the Day” at Housing Court. We talk to any tenant at court that day who may need advice before speaking to a judge or going to mediation with their landlord’s attorney. Some cases may require more than just advice and with our supervisor’s permission, we can represent a tenant in court or during mediation for that day only. I’ve been able to do it more than once, and wow, God is so good. He used me as a vessel to get a case dismissed and another settled. I also just want to state that the Housing Court process in Boston is absolutely ridiculous and oppressive and needs to be completely revamped, but one day right?

I know this has been a long post but the last thing I want to touch on is the people I have met and worked under. I have one supervising attorney who I call “Queen.” She has been so supportive and a great role model to look up to the way she advocates for clients and how knowledgeable she is. She has patiently taught me so much about the legal process especially as it relates to evictions and foreclosures and I couldn’t be more grateful to have worked under her. The team of student attorneys that I worked alongside have really taught me soooo much. There are a total of 16 summer attorneys, only 3 of us are black (all 3 black women) and only 3 of the 16 are men, but we are all forces to be reckoned with. They are the most diverse set of friends I’ve worked with (shoutout to HLAB for the diversity, although I did vocally express that next year they need to have at least have one black man because (1) representation and (2) some of us are looking for a husband). These colleagues have talked with me about every topic under the sun: religion, Trump, LGBTQ issues, relationships, men problems, Kim Kardashian and Kanye, what is racism, geography, Meg Thee Stallion, the goodness of God, how housing sucks, being broke, and the list really goes on and on. And yes, we’ve done it in the office when we were supposed to be working but the topics were just too good lol. We've worked in our own cute little cubicles for the past 9 weeks every Monday - Friday, from 9am to 5pm (and actually late in the evening a lot of days). We've had biweekly happy hours, several "Omg I have to file this in Court by today" moments, crazy email exchanges and phone calls, and very meticulous filing procedures. Thank you all for enhancing this amazing experience for me. Yes I’ll show some quick favoritism: thank you Daisy for praying with me and talking me through some of my toughest moments and thank you Kalani for being another unapologetic sis who understood my thoughts throughout my time here.

Last: shoutout to my mama, daddy, sister, brother, grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles, Ashley for subletting her apartment, the DOPESSTTTT roommates, LOVE YOU BRITTNEY, the Boston barbers (and cool people I met at the barbershops), all the other attorneys who I didn’t work under but still supported me, my beautiful, loving, amazing friends in New York, ATL, and soon Chicago who made this summer that much more dope, and of course all of yall who read this whole thing and who support me with everything I do!

We’ll end this in the theme of Meg Thee Stallion:

IT’S BEEN A HOT GIRL SUMMAAAA AT HARVARDDDDD!!!!

(I’ll add more pictures next week after I have a Harvard photoshoot).

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