Harvard Law School’s Systemic Justice Project and Howard University School of Law’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center Launch ‘The Justice Initiative’

This Saturday, October 3, 2020, the Systemic Justice Project at Harvard Law School and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University School of Law will launch a year-long pilot project called “The Justice Initiative” with the first of 10, three-hour programming sessions. Dozens of lawyers from around the country and more than 200 law students from more than fifty U.S. law schools are already scheduled to participate in Saturday’s online event.

The Justice Initiative is a community of social justice-oriented law students, lawyers, law-school faculty, legal organizations, organizers, and activists devoted to thinking creatively about the role lawyers can play in reimagining, dismantling, and remaking unjust systems, working to repair longstanding injustices, assisting law students hoping to pursue justice-oriented careers, and providing opportunities for further study, engagement, advising, organizing, and collaboration among its members.

“This initiative is a match made in heaven,” said Justin Hansford, professor of law and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University School of Law.

“Former Howard Law Vice Dean Charles Hamilton Houston, mentor to Thurgood Marshall, studied at Harvard Law School. He is the progenitor of Howard University School of Law’s legacy of creating lawyers who function as social engineers in society. We will seek to use law, organizing, and research to create social change. The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center is Howard University’s flagship institutional setting for the study and practice of civil rights, human rights, and racial justice law and advocacy. In many ways, this partnership brings us full circle.”

The new initiative is motivated by longstanding systemic problems recently laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, the national reckoning with centuries of racism, a growing climate catastrophe, and a polarized population on the eve of a critical presidential election. Saturday’s program will involve panelists and advisors who will help law students better contribute to systemic change. Organizers ultimately hope to create a national network of lawyers and law students who share a commitment to social justice.

Jon Hanson, the Alan A. Stone Professor of Law and Director of the Systemic Justice Project at Harvard Law School, calls the collaboration an “unprecedented and, we hope, a valuable contribution to the collection efforts underway to reimagine and remake unjust systems.”

The Systemic Justice Project, a Harvard Law School-based program created in 2014, has been, explains Hanson, “devoted to understanding the complex and overlapping causes of systemic problems (from racial injustice and economic inequality to climate change and political corruption), theorizing strategies for challenging and addressing those problems, and facilitating collaborations among law students, lawyers, organizers, and activists to help advance those strategies.” Hanson continued: “Working with Justin Hansford and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University to create a still larger community around the shared goal of  advancing systemic justice represents the most exciting and promising opportunity we have had to fulfill that mission. This work has never been more urgent.”

Enumale M. Agada, a 2017 graduate of Harvard Law School, has helped organize and build the Justice Initiative and described the importance of the new collaboration this way: “In a time when many of us are questioning and challenging our society’s deeply embedded systems and institutions, there is a shared sense among the Initiative’s organizers that now is the time to do the same with legal education. Lawyers, and by extension legal education, play a pivotal role in shaping our society and can either be catalysts for change or impediments to it. Our hope is that the Justice Initiative will help encourage this generation of law students to view their role in society as that of changemakers and social engineers and foster a legal education system that better prepares law students to take up these mantles.”

On Saturday and at future sessions, The Justice Initiative will bring together justice-oriented systemic lawyers, law professors, and law students to provide presentations, panel discussions, and other forms of interactive programming designed to cover elements of legal education and legal theory that are not central to the traditional or core law school curricula, such as critical race theory, and that introduce and examine different types of systemic lawyering, and other justice-related essentials (e.g., organizing, storytelling, and self-care). In addition, there will be a retreat, career advice, and other opportunities for law students interested in pursuing systemic-lawyering careers.

Any law student or lawyer committed to helping build a justice-centered community is welcome to participate in The Justice Initiative. Interested students must attend roughly 10 three-hour online Saturday programming sessions. Participation is free and all materials will be provided. Because space is limited, registration is required. Interested students can learn more by watching recent informational sessions here and here.

Lawyers and law professors who would like to learn more can watch a video of the informational webinar here. A shorter video summarizing a variety of ways that lawyers can be involved is available here. And lawyers and law professors can register to participate here.

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