Marking a tragic milestone: 1 million Americans lost to COVID-19

As our nation mourns the loss of 1 million Americans to COVID-19, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy reflects on the tragic loss of our neighbors to the pandemic.   We mourn their deaths, we mourn for the families and friends that loved them, and we mourn for our community that continues to cope with this loss every day. 

While a monumental milestone, what is lost in the number is the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had across ages, races, income level, and healthcare access.   Older Americans account for 93% of deaths, including more than 200,000 deaths of residents and staff at long-term care facilities.  This figure, though tragic, is likely a gross undercount as it does not account for the nearly one million people living in assisted living facilities.  Some calculations indicate that roughly one third of COVID deaths were in facilities that house not only seniors with disabilities but also younger people (ages 31-64) living with disabilities.  The Nation Council on Disability noted, “For decades, federal and state healthcare data collection practices failed to capture baseline information about the functional disability status of patients and the public, leaving people with disabilities uncounted during and after public health emergencies.”  People with disabilities were often sidelined when resources in hospitals and personnel were scarce.  Furthermore, the existing shortage of care workers for people with disabilities prior to the pandemic was further exacerbated during the health emergency, leaving people with disabilities and their caregivers without sufficient support and at even greater risk of being institutionalized.

The disparity in rates of infection and death are further evident when race and income level are considered.  Hispanic, Black, and American Indian and Alaska Native people were about twice as likely to die from COVID as White people.  Hispanic and American Indian and Alaska Natives were at about one and a half times greater risk of contracting COVID than their White counterparts.  This variance is also tied to income inequality, as low-income workers were often employed in industries deemed “essential” and were left with no choice but to return to work despite the potential for increased exposure.  As a result, employees in several industries exempt from stay-at-home orders, including food services, agriculture, and manufacturing were twice as likely to die from COVID than others the same age

What lies at the heart of this disparity is years of systemic divestment that led to large gaps in healthcare resources and infrastructure for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color across all income levels.  This inequity existed long before the pandemic and was simply laid bare by the public health emergency.

Throughout the pandemic, we recognized that the families and individuals for whom we fought for fair access to health care and public services were also the families and individuals feeling the effects of the pandemic most intensely.  Life may have begun to return to normal for some in our community, but these vulnerable populations continue to be impacted by the effects of the pandemic.  When the public health emergency ends, tens of thousands North Carolinians without access to affordable healthcare will no longer be eligible for Medicaid in North Carolina, a state that has elected not to provide health insurance to all low-income adults.  (This Medicaid gap results in a population with income levels that make them ineligible for Medicaid yet too poor for premium subsidies through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.  Without expansion, hundreds of thousands in our state will remain without access to affordable healthcare.)  Just as we mourn with our community for this tragic milestone, so too will we stand with our community to advocate for people living with the disabilities, People of Color, and low-income children and families that have been further marginalized by this public health crisis.

Q&A with Toussaint Romain: the new CEO of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy | QCityMetro

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is a non-profit organization that provides legal aid to those who need it, but cannot afford it.

The organization recently announced that Toussaint Romain would be the new chief executive officer effective May 16.

Romain has been a public defender and taught courses in constitutional law and mass incarceration. He also participated in the Keith Lamont Scott protests of 2016.

QCity Metro sat down with Romain to discuss his role as CEO and his interest in legal advocacy. The answers below have been edited for clarity.

What will your role be as CEO of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy?

We [Charlotte Legal Advocacy] have some very highly esteemed lawyers, paralegals and support staff. They will continue to do the individual representation, but also systemic advocacy. We have navigators who are getting into the community, meeting their needs, and putting a soapbox up by going to community centers and providing information and services. I look to do all of that.

But the biggest part of what I will focus on are the external relationships that this organization needs. There’s so much phenomenal work being done here. We need to tell our story and we need to really allow folks to know who we are so that they understand that their needs are getting met through our services, either through individual clients or through potential donors and supporters.

Read the full Q & A on qcitymetro.com

Toussaint Romain will lead Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy | WFAE 90.7

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has a new chief executive officer. As a former public defender, law professor and civil rights activist, Toussaint Romain is no stranger to the legal system.

In his new role, Romain says there are three core values that the Advocacy Center is focusing on, which are part of the organization’s vision to build a just community.

“The first is safety which is especially important,” Romain said. “Second is economic security so people can take care of their basic needs. And finally, stability because we want to make sure folks know that they’re in an environment where it’s going to be stable and that they’re able to move forward with the hope of upward mobility and economic opportunity.”

Romain says the Advocacy Center partners with other organizations so they can offer more than legal services.

“We’ve been involved in the community since 1967 to really help that child, that mother, that immigrant, that person with disabilities, that veteran and that senior,” Romain said. “That’s what’s most important, and we get to do it on a daily basis.”

Read the full story on WFAE.org

Lifting Title 42 is Necessary

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy welcomes the announcement from the Biden Administration that the use of Title 42, a public health law, to expel vulnerable migrants at our border will finally end on May 23, 2022.

Public health experts and advocates alike have stated that preventing people from seeking asylum has no public health rationale and asylum seekers can be processed safely. Yet the policy remained in place even as other COVID-19 related precautions, including restrictions on business and leisure travel, were phased out.

Since March 2020, over 1.7 million expulsions have been carried out under Title 42, with far-ranging consequences for those expelled. Human Rights First has tracked at least 9,886 cases of kidnappings, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people expelled to Mexico due to the Title 42 policy since President Biden took office.

While this announcement is welcome news, the fight is not yet over. There are now several congressional efforts and legal challenges to stop the termination of Title 42 and continued advocacy is necessary. In addition, adults and families will continue to face immediate expulsion until the order’s official end on May 23, as announced by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. 

After Title 42 is lifted, those seeking asylum in the U.S. will still face an uphill battle. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces many asylum seekers to wait in dangerous areas of Mexico until their court hearings, remains in effect. As of January 2022, those wait times for an asylum hearing averaged five years, though the Biden Administration recently announced plans to streamline the asylum process. 

We must continue to advocate for fair and humane asylum policies, as well as sufficient staffing, resources, and coordination with organizations working with asylum seekers on both sides of the border.  These efforts will ensure due process and the equitable treatment of all people seeking protection.

Toussaint C. Romain to join Advocacy Center as Chief Executive Officer

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is pleased to introduce Toussaint C. Romain as our new Chief Executive Officer, effective May 16, 2022.  Toussaint’s experience, leadership, and passion for justice will serve the Advocacy Center well as it enters a new chapter of impact and growth.  As always, the organization remains dedicated to providing legal representation to those who are unable to afford it, while also acknowledging the impact that legal access can have on economic opportunity and mobility within the Charlotte community. The Advocacy Center’s commitment to systemic advocacy shall continue.

“Our board of directors is very excited to work with a servant leader as passionate, engaging, and energetic as Toussaint. After an extensive search, we are confident Toussaint is the right person to build upon the advocacy, services and support provided by our dedicated legal staff and volunteer attorneys for more than 50 years.  We trust that he will expand the reach and impact of the Advocacy Center’s mission and vision to pursue justice for those in need, providing access to legal representation to meet our clients’ basic human needs of safety, security, and stability,” says John Grupp, President, Board of Directors.    

Before joining the Advocacy Center, Toussaint worked most recently as the Deputy General Counsel for Appalachian State University, one of the University of North Carolina system institutions. Prior to that, Toussaint spent ten years as an Assistant Public Defender in Mecklenburg County, representing thousands of individuals through this work.  He has led legal trainings and taught courses in Constitutional Law and Mass Incarceration. In addition, Toussaint has served as a national speaker presenting on issues of Leadership, Systemic Racism & Sexism and Criminal Justice Reform to legal professionals, systems’ leaders, and corporate executives. Prior to earning his law degree in 2007, Toussaint worked for federal prosecutors, federal and state judges, large law firms, the National Institute of Justice, and U.S. Senator John Edwards.

“I am excited, yet humbled, to serve as the CEO of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy,” said Toussaint.  “I am passionate about indigent defense and systemic advocacy. I have devoted my life and profession to this type of work and I look forward to joining a team at the Advocacy Center that shares my passion. There is so much that we can accomplish – together. The impact that we will make for our clients while also creating access to upward mobility is invigorating. It will be our legacy and I cannot wait to begin!”

Toussaint will be assisted through the transitional process by Jean Pudlo, interim Executive Director.

We’ve moved to a new home!

Welcome to the Advocacy Center, the new home of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy! 

There are over 300,000 residents in Mecklenburg County who are eligible for our services and in need of legal assistance, but unable to afford private lawyers.  With demand significantly increasing over the past several years, we increased our staff and resource to better assist our community.  Our growth was met with its own challenges, and we quickly found our impact limited by physical space. 

Our new home at 5535 Albemarle Road substantially improves our ability to provide dignified, confidential, convenient service by tripling our square footage and consolidating all our services under one roof. The services and staff our clients know and trust will remain the same, just at a new location. 

We look forward to welcoming you to our new home!

Celebrating 34 Years of Leadership & Service: Kenneth Schorr Retires

Kenneth Schorr will retire as Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Executive Director on April 8, 2022 after 34 years of public service. 

Ken has tirelessly served low-income people in North Carolina throughout his tenure at the Advocacy Center, as well as in leadership roles in many local, state, and national non-profit organizations. Over the years he has been an outspoken advocate for economic security for all, an intrepid supporter of employment rights for North Carolina workers, and a strong proponent of creating a welcoming community for immigrants. Driven by his vision, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has grown into a respected legal services organization equipped to meet the pressing legal needs of those across the state. 

At the core of his vision is Ken’s dedication to helping low-income and marginalized individuals.  This commitment led the Advocacy Center to establish legal assistance programs for immigrants, veterans, and marginalized communities, years before services were more widely available.  He pushed the Advocacy Center to support unpopular litigation and system advocacy that resulted in positive change for hundreds of thousands of low-income families, strengthening the organization for the future in the process.  His efforts redefined what lawyers could do to help people living in poverty.

Unrelenting dedication would not have been enough for Ken to make the ideal possible. It has taken Ken’s unique form of leadership to inspire community members—judges, lawyers, government officials and others—to assist with the vast undertaking that has been the creation and growth each of our programs. Thanks to Ken, corporate and private firm attorneys have been encouraged and supported to take on pro bono across our service areas.

Ken’s legacy will be evident for years to come thanks to our new facility on Albemarle Road.  His vision has led to the development of a space unique in the legal services community: designed with the needs of our clients in mind, in a location that is accessible, safe, and dignified. The new Advocacy Center allows us to meet the increasing needs of our neighbors and expands our impact in the community.  

Ken’s leadership and service will be missed but he leaves the Advocacy Center in a strong position to move forward with our Interim Director, Jean Pudlo.

An event to honor Ken’s leadership and legacy will be held on April 26, 2022, from 4:30-6:30pm at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, 5535 Albemarle Road.  Please RSVP.

If you would like to leave a note or tribute to Ken, please share your message in the form below:

Advocacy Center Leadership Transition

After 34 years of service, our Executive Director, Kenneth Schorr, will retire on April 8, 2022. Ken leaves the Advocacy Center in a strong position to move forward with a new Chief Executive Officer.

While the search for our new CEO continues, the Advocacy Center Board of Directors has appointed Jean Pudlo as interim director. Jean has more than 30 years of nonprofit management experience and has served in interim roles for multiple nonprofit organizations in transition.  She will assume leadership duties on April 11, 2022. 

The Search Committee of the Advocacy Center Board of Directors, chaired by Jose Vega, Wells Fargo and Ed O’Keefe, Moore and Van Allen, has partnered with Elinvar Leadership Solutions to support the executive search and to ensure a smooth transition. Our new CEO is expected to join us in the coming months this year.

If you would like to leave a note or tribute to Ken, please share your message in the form below:

Kenneth Schorr, Executive Director, Announces Retirement

After 34 years of service, our Executive Director, Kenneth Schorr, will retire on April 8, 2022. While leading an effective and dynamic program of individual and systemic advocacy, Ken’s concluding goals were to lead our organization through its 50th anniversary celebration and rebranding in 2017, conduct a successful capital campaign, and acquire and move to a new building. As our capital campaign approaches our goal, and our organization will move to our new office in early 2022, those goals are nearly complete.

Ken began his service as Executive Director for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in April 1988. During his tenure, he recruited and supported lawyers and other staff to be experts in their areas of legal practice, provided individual client assistance in employment and other areas of law, and assisted other advocates across the range of our legal practice. Throughout his career, he has worked to keep our agency focused on the clients and community we serve, expert and agile in its work, and connected and collaborated with partners and supporters.

Ken’s professional career has been committed to helping those who are disadvantaged or disfavored in our community. We have all been impacted by his dedication.

The Advocacy Center Board has appointed a Search Committee, chaired by Jose Vega, Wells Fargo and Ed O’Keefe, Moore and Van Allen. The Search Committee and the Advocacy Center Board of Directors have selected Elinvar Leadership Solutions to support the executive search and to ensure a smooth transition. Although Ken’s determination and tenacity leading our organization will be missed, he leaves the Advocacy Center in a strong position to move forward with new leadership. Through this transition, the Advocacy Center will continue to work tirelessly to fulfill our mission to pursue justice for those in need.

Racial Justice Implications of Recent Legal Decisions

In pivotal cases in courtrooms across America, we have seen victories and movement toward a more just and equal country, while also being reminded that there is still more work to be done.  

Our legal system shows progress in the fight against racism 

On November 18th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt granted clemency to Julius Jones hours before his scheduled execution.  Jones had spent 19 years on death row for a 1999 murder that new compelling evidence suggests he did not commit. Governor Stitt took action after years of pleading and advocacy by the public, including a petition with more than 6.5 million signatures.  Supporters argued that Jones, a Black man, was not given a fair trial and that racism played a role in his sentencing.  Research has found that a disproportionate number of death-row inmates are Black, and that Black defendants accused of killing white people are more likely to be executed.  While the governor granted clemency, Jones still faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Days later, organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville were held liable for inciting violence against counter protesters in 2017.  The verdict was a clear admonishment of the defendants, a mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers. 

And finally, on November 24th, three white men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in what many viewed as a modern-day lynching.   Arbery was chased down and killed by the men while jogging through their neighborhood.  Arbery’s family and supporters across the nation found some solace in the jury of mostly white citizens affirming that killing an unarmed Black man was not only morally wrong, but legally wrong as well.  

The work is not finished 

Our nation was divided on November 19th when jurors found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty in his shooting of three men during racial justice protests in 2020.  Jurors determined that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense in accordance with Wisconsin law.  Those in opposition to the verdict argued that Rittenhouse, a young white man, benefited from a blatant racial double standard.  Many have argued that if Rittenhouse was Black, he would not have been released on bail, nor had a public trial to plead his innocence.  Activists also raised concerns that racial justice protestors could lawfully be deemed a threat by armed vigilantes.   

The underlying truth in these cases is that violence and injustice against people of color has gone on for far too long.  Our legal system has historically justified the killing of Black men and women, serving as an affront to the claims of justice for all.  Furthermore, men and women of color face implicit bias and systemic racism in our courtrooms, resulting in disproportionate negative outcomes in criminal legal proceedings.  Justice should not be based on the color of your skin. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy stands with the Black community 

The Advocacy Center’s vision is to build a just community where all people are treated fairly and have access to legal representation. The long-standing inequities of our criminal justice system have been laid bare, yet we know firsthand that our civil legal system is equally rife with injustices.  We must stand as a community to say that Black lives matter.  But so too does the quality of life to which they are afforded.   At the Advocacy Center, it is our mission to address the disproportionate impact of civil legal issues threatening our neighbors of color, improve our clients’ quality of life, ensure stability, and promote opportunity.  

The verdicts in the Charlottesville, Jones and Arbery trials may bring us closer to a world of justice for all, but we know it is just one step in a very long journey.  We continue to watch cases where Black defendants have made similar claims of self-defense. In Wisconsin, Chrystul Kizer, a young Black woman and a victim of abuse, faces criminal charges for murdering her sex trafficker when she was 17.  And in Georgia, Marc Wilson, a young Black man, faces criminal charges for killing a white female after firing defensive shots at her vehicle.  The young woman and co-passengers of her vehicle had targeted Wilson with racial epithets, threw glass bottles at his vehicle, and attempted to run Wilson off the road.  It is our hope that the outcome of these cases will demonstrate that Black defendants can and must receive the same deference and protection afforded by a self-defense argument as white defendants. For now, the fight continues and we remain hopeful that one day justice for all will not only be said, but shown.