In 2012, Rachel Johnson-Farias served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at East Bay Community Law Center. Now, Rachel is building her organization, Esq. Apprentice, through a prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship.
What inspired you to pursue your respective issue area?
RJF: I grew up in a household negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. From arrests to incarceration and chronic underemployment, I got a sense very early that the justice system seemed to be targeted at low-income people of color, and that the system wasn’t very just at all. When I became an attorney, I knew that my work would include the economic empowerment of low-income communities via reentry legal services.
Please briefly describe the trajectory that has led you to this newest fellowship project.
RJF: After utilizing my Equal Justice Works fellowship to launch California’s first juvenile record sealing clinic, I found that sealing a record alone was insufficient to keep low-income youth of color out of the adult system and on sustainable career paths. When I learned of legal apprenticeship, and that fewer than 300 people have successfully completed the program and passed the bar over the last 30 years, I saw an amazing opportunity to build on the existing structure and create a culturally responsive curriculum that provides in-depth support and rigorous training to non-traditional law students.
What led you to pursue a second fellowship opportunity?
RJF: Fellowships provide an awesome opportunity to invest in emerging leaders, and the Echoing Green Fellowship truly embodies this objective. By providing crucially important unrestricted seed funding and comprehensive, in-depth leadership development, Echoing Green really wraps around its fellows and provides a platform to take off and to rest along the way.
What is your goal for this project?
RJF: I hope that Esq. Apprentice will ensure a more diverse legal profession, economic empowerment for low-income communities, and justice for all by providing a debt-free path to law licensing for low-income youth of color. With legal apprenticeship available in three other states, Esq. Apprentice has potential to change the way low-income people access the law in California and, eventually, throughout the nation.