Photo of Essence Kimes

Essence Kimes

  • Hosted by Education Law Center
  • Sponsored by McGuireWoods LLP, PNC Bank
  • Service location Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Law school University of Pittsburgh School of Law
  • Issue area Education/Special Education
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Essence works to increase access to race-positive, gender-responsive, and trauma-informed mental health supports and services for Black girls in school through legal representation, community engagement, and systemic advocacy.

The educational needs of Black girls are a critical part of my Project. Black girls are disproportionally criminalized and pushed out of schools compared to their white counterparts. It is imperative that Black girls have less interaction with police in schools and more access to counselors and trained mental health professionals.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Essence has:

  • Provided legal services to 21 clients, including full representation for a Black girl with disabilities who was pushed into a more restrictive educational setting after the school failed to follow her IEP
  • Prepared and submitted public testimony to Pittsburgh Public School Board that informed the budget for the 2021-2022 school year, changed school policy to no longer allow suspensions for repeated low-level offenses, and removed the offense of “disorderly conduct” from the Code of Student Conduct
  • Served as part of the amicus brief team at ELC in a precedent-setting case in front of the PA Supreme Court on students’ right to free speech outside of school and due process when facing school discipline for that speech, impacting 1.7 million school-age children in PA
  • Gave 10 presentations to community partners and advocates
  • Created an infomercial for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month that advocated for and informed audiences of the importance of recognizing the mental health needs of Black girls in schools

Next Steps

In the next six months, Essence plans to:

  • Continue to provide representation and consultation on matters involving mental health services for students who identify as Black girls
  • Develop family-friendly resources to help parents, students, and advocates understand their rights and advocate for themselves
  • Continue trainings and start informational sessions or legal clinics to support community partners, families, and youth with technical assistance and legal advice

Meet Other Fellows Like Essence

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Margaret Wakelin

Host: Equip for Equality

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig Fellowship Foundation

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Amelia Huckins

Host: Mississippi Center for Justice

Sponsor: Friends and Family of Philip M. Stern

Tovah Pentelovitch

Host: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Texas Access to Justice Foundation

Teresita Ramos

Host: Disability Law Center

Sponsor: Equal Justice Works Text-to-Give