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February 03, 2024

Safety, survivors and community organizations: What lawyers need to know

Community leaders in Louisville, Kentucky, met with lawyers attending the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting at the Metro United Way on Feb. 2 to discuss how the legal profession can help support their goals.

Maricarmen Garza, chair of the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said during the program, “Safety, Community and Gender-Based Violence,” that it’s important for lawyers to meet with local residents and organizations who are doing the work around domestic violence and support survivors, because the “lived experiences” inform ABA policy and programming. ”We need to know what’s going on,” she said.

According to the program panelists, the issues people are challenged with in Louisville include language access, immigration, housing and access to mental health services.

Representatives from the La Casita Center, Louisville Metro Government, Zora’s Cradle, Play Cousins Collective and the Louisville Metro Office for Women shared stories of how their organizations help the most vulnerable after surviving domestic violence.

Mahogany Livers, director of programming at the Play Cousins Collective, described her organization as building a village around people and working to help them navigate different systems that provide resources. She said most of those she serves experience racism and systemic issues, including a lack of basic needs.

The panelists agreed that lawyers can do more to become educated about representing people with mental health issues. Their organizations also need more help in elevating causes and raising funds to continue to aid those who need it. For a lot of their clients, access to justice remains a hurdle.

Gretchen Hunt, director of the Louisville Metro Office for Women, said lawyers should continue to listen to people to help create solutions. “I want lawyers to think upstream,” Hunt said. “What are we doing to change zoning laws, to change housing outcomes?”

“Anybody can be an advocate,” said Virginia Paiz-Gilbert, mental specialist coordinator at La Casita Center, adding that discussions like the one taking place help to address issues.

Shemika Whiteside, executive director and founder of Zora’s Cradle, started her organization during the pandemic after posting on Facebook that someone needed to do something about the issues affecting her community. Someone volunteered to rent her office space to get started and things progressed from there. Everyone has great ideas, she said, and that she’s more concerned about the next steps — strategically creating an action plan to help “diminish outcomes.”

“There are conversations that can happen after this,” Hunt said. “I want to thank the ABA for sort of lighting that fire under us to connect the dots on these important conversations.”