ABA NCLA Provides Students with Four Days of Civic Education

Andrew Hairston
NCLA helps students understand how law, policies, people, and institutions shape public policy in our country.

NCLA helps students understand how law, policies, people, and institutions shape public policy in our country.

Lisa Helfert

In 2017 and 2018, I had the distinct honor of presenting to the ABA National Civics & Law Academy. An initiative of the ABA’s Division for Public Education, the program brings a few dozen 11th and 12th graders to Washington, DC, for a week. The impressive line-up of events includes a tour of the Supreme Court and a mock trial simulation at American University. My contribution to the Academy entailed speaking with these brilliant scholars about my path to a career as a lawyer. Along with my phenomenal colleagues and friends—Maritza Perez, Craig Williams, Dwight Lacy, and Ravay Smith—I participated in round-table discussions with the scholars, followed by a panel Q&A discussion.

The scholars consistently blew me away with their ambition and interest in policy. We discussed topics ranging from criminal justice reform to the school-to-prison pipeline. These young people detailed their future goals and shared insight into the careers they hope to pursue. Some expressed interest in attending my alma mater, Howard University, while others shed light on how they hope to become educators and make a difference in their communities. Some spoke of attending universities in regions across the country and eventually returning to their hometowns to become lawyers themselves. The consistent, recurring theme was how thoroughly these young people grasped the world and the challenges it faces.

One of the best aspects of the program was the sense of camaraderie that it fostered between me and my co-presenters. The Division for Public Education worked diligently to identify a group of Black and Latinx lawyers who represented various areas of practice. We were civil rights lawyers, government attorneys, lobbyists, and private practitioners. A number of us were first-generation lawyers, and we all brought unique perspectives to the table that resonated with the young people of the Academy. Most importantly, we instantly became friends and remain in contact to this day.

Admittedly, it can be tough in this political climate to find rays of hope. Authoritarian regimes are on the rise across the globe, and white nationalism steadily seeps through the rhetoric and proposals of prominent policymakers. Debates about immigration, reproductive rights, healthcare, and race relations wage on with ferocity, and the country remains deeply divided.

However, in the National Civics & Law Academy, the ABA has identified one of those imperative rays of hope. I have no doubt that the young people who have participated in the program will become the next generation of American leaders; they will lead this nation—and the world—into a brighter future that appreciates the strength of our racial and cultural diversity. Much work remains to secure America’s promise of freedom, justice, and equality for all, but the young people of the National Civics & Law Academy are well-equipped for the task. I wish the program much success in its future years of operation, and it will ideally be around for many more seasons to come.

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Andrew Hairston

Andrew Hairston is a writer and civil rights attorney based in Austin, Texas. He currently directs the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed.