As a public defender in the Bronx, New York, for almost a decade, Adeola Ogunkeyede saw firsthand how patterns of institutional racism and systemic inequality impacted her clients even before they entered the criminal justice system.
She started to wonder: Was there a way to break those destructive cycles? Could legal aid unite with local leaders to identify the most problematic points of contact between directly impacted communities and the criminal justice system—then fix them?
The answer, she discovered, was yes.
In 2017, Ogunkeyede joined the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, to help launch the Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program. The purpose was exactly what she had envisioned: Legal aid lawyers supported community-led efforts to promote criminal justice reform