The Gift of a Second Chance

Javourya Winstead had several charges in her youth as a result of being, in her own words, “young and reckless.” Although these charges were from long ago, she still faced the collateral consequences of her past convictions.  

Javourya with her son

Criminal records significantly hinder social mobility, particularly for Black people and other communities of color. Expungement reduces the list of nonviolent offenses that will “flag” a criminal background check, which can automatically disqualify someone for a job. In addition to removing barriers to employment, research shows that expungement leads to increased wages and reduces recidivism—the possibility of someone receiving another charge or becoming re-incarcerated. 

 Eighty-five percent of our clients who seek expungements are Black. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is working toward eliminating the collateral consequences of the criminal justice system, giving people who deserve it a second chance, and ensuring individual’s past mistakes are not a substantial barrier to economic opportunity. With our systemic advocacy initiatives, Governor Cooper signed the Second Chance Act into law, which expands eligibility for N.C. residents to have nonviolent criminal offenses removed from their records through expunctions. 

Javourya felt that her past actions no longer reflected the person she is today: “In reality, everybody’s done something [wrong], whether you got caught or not; it’s the principle that I had to own up to it. I did it. And the only thing I can do is change.” She reached out to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy just to see if her record could be expunged: “I hesitated because I thought, ‘I don’t know if my record’s good enough.” To her surprise, it was.  

No longer burdened with past mistakes, Javourya “felt like the world lifted off my shoulders. . .  I’ve heard ‘no’ so much because of my record that it finally feels good to be able to say sooner or later I’m going to hear a ‘yes.’”  

With her record expunged, Javourya has been able to support herself and her three-year old son and is attending school for real estate this fall. She encourages others like herself to “just make that one phone call and talk to someone at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy because they are the professionals and know what they’re talking about. One mistake should not be a lifetime sentence.” 

Learn more about the Access To Justice Campaign here.

A “Little Safe Place on Elizabeth Avenue”

Melody in her chef uniform

Even before the pandemic, Melody and her family were facing a difficult year. Because of her husband’s heart condition and sister’s disability, Melody was the only member of her family bringing in any income, the majority of which went to paying medical bills and old property taxes her parents had left unpaid after they passed away. Melody was chipping away at the balance but could not keep up: she soon received a letter that the county would foreclose on their home. 

“I was devastated,” Melody shared, “I thought I had tried so hard to get nowhere. I was the only one working and I was putting my family in danger of losing their home.”  

Holding back tears, she still went into work the next day. Combining her love of southern food and her own Native Lumbee cuisines, Melody has been whipping up the daily special at Showmars in the Charlotte Government Center for years. A regular customer noticed she was upset and asked what was wrong. Melody explained her situation and he told her about an organization that could help: Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  

Melody, her husband, Jerry, and grandson

Melody quickly connected with The Advocacy Center’s Consumer Protection Unit. We assured Melody “not to worry” and worked with Melody and the county to negotiate a payment plan and that included forgiveness of substantial old tax due from the mid-2000’s. Melody and her family were no longer at risk of foreclosure; they could keep their home. In her own words, it “felt like somebody was on my side other than God himself.” 

Melody calls Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte “my little safe place on Elizabeth avenue,” and it’s no surprise why: 

“It brightens my day every time I drive by that building!”

As the pandemic progressed, it became clear Melody and her family had other unaddressed legal needs. Melody was worried about being able to make her payments on time after she was furloughed. She connected with Legal Aid, and soon received expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES act.  “I wouldn’t have been able to make those payments, I would’ve lost it all.” 

Melody is the proud grandmother of nine grandchildren: “Them arms around you and everything is most important, my family.”

As part of our work we learned that Melody’s sister, Wendy’s social security benefits had been terminated despite her disability. The Advocacy Center stepped back in to ensure she was receiving the benefits she was entitled to. The Advocacy Center’s Family Support and Healthcare Unit, also assisted Wendy in applying for food stamps to help their family through this crisis.  Melody would soon turn 65, so we also ensured everything was in order for her to receive Medicare in a few short months.  

After working with Melody she says, “They see you as a person and a human being. Almost like Winnie the pooh would say: ‘they’re the best.’ You can tell I watch too many cartoons with the grandkids!” 

Celebrate Pro Bono Week October 25th-31st, 2020

We have to shout it from the rooftops. Our Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners Program enables Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina–Charlotte to have an immense impact on our society, narrow Mecklenburg County’s justice gap, and to build a stronger, more just community for us all.

THANK YOU!

Locally and Nationally Recognized Volunteers and Programs

We recognized nearly 100 volunteer attorneys who donated at least 20 hours of service in the last year. From executing wills to helping immigrant children, these attorneys are dedicated to access to justice in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and beyond.

Graphic of Mecklenburg County pro bono award recipients including head shots of Paul Kinny, Emma Merrit, and Blas Arroyo
Mecklenburg Bar Pro Bono Award Recipients

Of these attorneys, several were recognized for their commitment to pro bono by the Mecklenburg Bar. Blas P. Arroyo, senior counsel at Alston & Bird LLP, and Emma Merritt, attorney with Hunton Andrews and Kurth LLP, received this accolade for their respective work on criminal record expunctions and medicaid advocacy with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. Paul Kinny, a long term attorney with Duke Energy, spent ten weeks assisting Legal Aid of NC–Charlotte with housing cases. Moore & Van Allen PLLC received the firm award for their dedication of over 300 hours of representation in landlord-tenant cases. Learn more about those recognized here.

Finally, the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership received two awards from the North Carolina Bar Association and the Pro Bono Institute this year for its innovative approach to engaging local attorneys with and training them in six of the most pressing legal issues affecting Mecklenburg County: human trafficking, housing, social security benefits, driver’s license restoration, criminal record expunctions, and affordable healthcare. This year we trained over 200 attorneys and advocates to volunteer with our programs through the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership.

Meet Heryka Knoespel and Elizabeth Murphy: Learn their “Why”

Sometimes the best part about being an attorney is helping people in ways they never expected. Attorney Heryka Knoespel gives a great example of this when she talks about how she helped someone not only get justice but improve his life.
Attorney Elizabeth Murphy tells us about her experience as a pro bono attorney at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. For Elizabeth, the support she has received from staff and the gratitude she receives from clients makes the pro bono work priceless. Watch Elizabeth explain how she used her skills to help a little girl from South America stay in the United States where she had more opportunity.

Learn more about the Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners program

In Memory of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“Notorious RBG.”

. . .

We are deeply saddened by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg was a champion for justice during her 27 years on the Court, and she has been the leading voice for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality throughout her tenure. She will be dearly missed as one of our nation and our legal field’s most consistent and principled voices for justice for all. She dedicated her career to the causes that drive both our organization and members of our staff.  

  • Ginsburg graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1959, tied for first in her class, but then had difficulty finding employment because of her gender.  
  • She held a US District Court clerkship and conducted research on Swedish civil procedure (for which she learned to speak Swedish),  became a Professor at Rutgers Law School, and then  was told that she would be paid less than her male colleagues.  

In 1972 she became the first woman tenured professor at Columbia Law School. She also co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, becoming General Counsel in 1973 and arguing six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976. She won five of the six. Working as Thurgood Marshall had done in race discrimination cases, she devised an incremental legal strategy, challenging specific discriminatory statutes and building on each successive victory. She demonstrated that gender discrimination was harmful to us all. 

In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.  

And in 1993 to the US Supreme Court, becoming the second female Justice in US history confirmed by the US Senate on a vote of 96 to 3.  

We admire Justice Ginsburg  for her keen intellect, her determination in the face of injustice, and for her eloquence in majority and in dissent. She was personally close to people who agreed with her and with many who did not, notably Antonin Scalia.  Her powerful marriage and commitment to family have become a motivating example of how to succeed and strike a balance as a devoted spouse and mother and a tireless professional simultaneously.  

She was an inspiration for her own family as well. Both her daughter, Jane Ginsberg, and granddaughter, Clara Spera, went on to law school. Clara currently works at the ACLU advocating to expand reproductive care for low-income women. Spera notes that “no one has guided and inspired me more than my grandmother.” 

 Late in her life, Ginsburg became a cultural icon.  Younger generations, many of our staff members included, followed “Notorious RBG’s” footsteps and legacy to law school and the fight for justice.  

Justice Ginsburg’s  activism as a lawyer and Justice paved the way for much of the Advocacy Center’s work today, including, for example, her fierce advocacy for equal protection with respect to the Social Security Act and her continued support for the Affordable Care Act.  

We will not lose sight of the enduring legacy Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves behind, and we should embrace her determination to work toward opportunity and justice. 

As her death came during the celebration of Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, I  recall her words during services of that celebration years ago,  

“We are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there’s going to be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that’s how people should live.”   

Justice Ginsburg passed on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, saved for the most righteous of people signifying she was given the full measure of the year. Justice Ginsburg gave to all of us the full measure of herself and for that we are all truly blessed. 

That is her legacy. She lived each day righteously, in pursuit of equality and justice for all, not for any accolades, but because it was the right and just thing to do. And in this she set perhaps the greatest example of all, that each of us, no matter our position or stature, can pursue these ideals in our own lives, “because that’s how people should live.”  

May we all live up to her challenge. May her memory be an inspiration

Sincerely,

Ken Schorr, Executive Director