WSBA’s Powerful Communities Project: Community Events

This is part of our series on the WSBA Powerful Communities Project. To learn more about this project, check out “Distribution of Power: A Look at the WSBA Powerful Communities Project.” Project proposals for funds in 2020 are due by 5 p.m. Feb. 7; visit the Powerful Communities Project page to learn more and apply.

Northwest Justice Project’s Native American Unit—Reaching the Skokomish Tribe in Mason County

Located in rural Mason County, about 30 percent of Skokomish Tribe members live below the poverty level. In partnership with Northwest Justice Project (NJP), its Native American Unit, and Skokomish Indian Tribe Tuwaduq Family Services , tribal members were able to share their need for culturally informed legal information about the civil and criminal legal systems, particularly in how to navigate them to address issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, youth and education, and child welfare.

NJP hosted an onsite event to share services that are available to the tribal members, as well as information about pertinent legal issues like education rights in public schools and obtaining protection orders and parenting plans in situations involving domestic violence. Almost 40 Skokomish tribal members attended this event and participated in a discussion about the specific needs of Skokomish tribal members and how legal aid providers can provide the most effective legal support.

“NJP will continue to build relationships with Skokomish service providers and tribal members so that the community becomes more familiar with NJP’s work and considers NJP a trusted resource,” the organization said.

QLaw Foundation

Attendees at the the QLaw Foundation “LGBTQ+ Community Legal Convening” in September 2019.

Though there is not always trust between people in the LGBTQ community and the legal system, this was one step toward mending that relationship.

For the past decade, the QLaw Foundation of Washington has enlisted hundreds of volunteers to deliver free legal services to the LGBTQ community and work toward “bridging the divide between the LGBTQ community and legal professionals,” through partnerships between community organizations and legal-service providers to address systemic gaps in legal services available to LGBTQ communities.

In September 2019, QLaw held its first “LGBTQ+ Community Legal Convening” to hold deep conversations and build new, better relationships. Staff from organizations like TeamChild, the Lavender Rights Project, Northwest Network, Legal Counsel for Youth and Children and the King County Bar Association, and community-based organizations comprised of LGBTQ+ community members were there to open that dialogue with facilitator Nikkita Oliver—a local attorney and community activist who’s been active in LGBTQ+ inclusive movements.

“Attendees remarked that observing those conversations was transformative in their understanding of the impressions, values, and pressures felt by the people on the ‘other side’ of the legal/community divide,” QLaw said.

Snohomish County Legal Services—Community-Informed Outreach to Communities of Color

Snohomish County Legal Services (SCLS) provides free legal aid programs to increase access to civil justice for the community. It uses a self-described “hybrid model of service delivery” to meet client needs.

With support from the Powerful Communities Project, SCLS set out to provide legal advice on landlord-tenant issues with an “intersectional housing discrimination lens” over the course of four events, all coordinated with established partners and members of underserved communities (African American and other communities of color) in Snohomish County. SCLS set up information booths and workshops at Nubian Jam, the NAACP of Snohomish County, Interfaith Family Shelter, and the Everett Public Library from June to September 2019 .

Rather than offering legal clinics and hoping that clients would just show up, SCLS went to where communities of color are, and deepened partnerships with community-based organizations. In fact, the NAACP of Snohomish County has since invited SCLS to offer a know-your-legal-rights session at a community event alongside other partners like Communities of Color Coalition of Snohomish County.

TeamChild and Tacoma Healing Awareness Community—Dismantling the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline through Community Outreach

TeamChild—a civil legal aid organization serving youth involved in the juvenile justice system—and Tacoma Healing Awareness Community (THAC)—which focuses on the unique experiences and needs of the underrepresented Southeast Asian community—partnered with other community-based organizations to support Tacoma families with a back-to-school event, “Dismantling the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline.”

Almost 125 people attended, representing the Latinx, Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, Laos, Black, and white communities. The event included a keynote presentation by empowerment speaker and author Marz Bishop, as well as local attorneys, public officials, and other community members who shared information on legal aid services, health-care access, and other available resources.

“The underserved community felt very blessed to know that there are free services,” THAC said. “Us showing up and bringing a team of agencies to offer services was new to them. … Anytime you’re dealing with an oppressed community, it takes lots of effort, time, and generosity to build trust.”

Building on this momentum, similar events are planned for the future: “The more we invest in the disproportioned community, the clearer our message will be.”

Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services—Serving the Latinx Parents and Students

Since 2001, Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services (VAS) has helped community organizations empower residents to access the legal system and referred indigent clients to pro bono attorneys. Through earlier work in the community, VAS learned of a unique problem among Latinx parents amid a surge in Latinx student expulsions. Yakima School District is the second largest Latinx majority school district in the state, according to VAS.

VAS invited Latinx families to a know-your-rights event with a presentation by a local school rights attorney and opportunity to ask questions. A court-certified interpreter was onsite to translate for the approximately 200 attendees, and food was provided as VAS was aware that a high percentage of families fall below the poverty rate. VAS also coordinated with a local clothing boutique and a salon, which collected school supplies for students, provided back-to-school haircuts, and offered free senior photo sessions.

“Attendees were very interested in the school rights information and the attorney who presented is willing to return for quarterly presentations,” VAS said. “At a minimum, we would like to continue this event as a yearly event. We believe next year the event will bring in even more people.”