Unemployment Action Center
We are five undergraduate women of color interning at the Unemployment Action Center (UAC) this summer. We’re just like the Keating Five on “How to Get Away with Murder”—a group of students who work outside of class to help clients—except we are not law students yet. We also do not murder people.
In New York City, there is a staggering number of unemployed individuals fighting for their rights, yet only a small number of advocates ready to represent them. The Unemployment Action Center is a nonprofit, student-run organization that provides pro-bono representation for individuals in adversarial hearings to obtain unemployment benefits. With training and guidance from NYU law students, we argue in front of administrative law judges. UAC hires law students and, through the Ladders for Leaders program, college students to run all aspects of the group’s operations over the summer. Sometimes, we even take on practicing attorneys head-to-head to fill the void in advocacy for the unemployed.
As exciting as our work has been, we cannot ignore how few professionals and law students look like us. The sad reality of low numbers of women of color in the law is just another challenge we are all excited to take on.
I always knew I wanted a career that used the law to protect people. That’s exactly what we do at the Unemployment Action Center. The task is not always easy. A client can be an untimely chatter box or a very timid person who can be intimidated and manipulated under the pressure of tough questioning. At the UAC, I’ve learned to think on my feet (because you can never be fully prepared) and that five heads are better than one.
– A Young Black Hispanic Female Student
My daycare teachers used to complain to my parents that whenever other children were in trouble, I always argued relentlessly in their defense. That instinct has served me well at the UAC. Here, I get to defend individuals who cannot properly represent themselves. Learning to defend those in need is the start of my goal to work in International Criminal Law.
– Damyre K.B.
As a girl from the South Bronx, I was often told to think realistically about my future. Pursuing a career in law was deemed unreasonable by those voices. They were wrong. Not even yet in law school, I am representing claimants in a real court room, and feel like I already have began a legal career. I intend to utilize the skills that I’ve gained this summer to lower the recidivism rate by advocating for individuals facing the challenges of re-entry after incarceration.
– Lyncee Stroman
As a first-generation college student, my family wanted me to pursue a career in law for financial reasons. Law would break me from the cycle of poverty. While I was genuinely interested in the field and have always had a passion for creating positive change, I was worried that the work would be too challenging or cold. My experience this summer has reassured me that I can handle the challenges of law school, and that law can generate change when we empathize with others.
– Shaina Coronel
When I was applying to college, my uncles and brothers told me that pursuing law was foolish. “Law is a dying field. Focus on something that can be useful and substantial anywhere in the world, like medicine or engineering,” they said. After winning my first case, I was in high spirits. Through law, I made a positive impact on someone’s life. If that is not substantial, then I am not sure what is.
– Judy Fordjuoh