Tyahija Martin

The Project

Tyahija (they/them/theirs) will eradicate institutionalized barriers that constrict freedom, full expression, and the rights of School Age Black and Brown girls and Transgender/Nonbinary and Gender Nonconforming (TNBGNC) youth in Brooklyn, New York.

Black and Brown girls and TNBGNC youth are criminalized for normal adolescent behavior, trauma and mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and survival-based offenses that require support and resources rather than discipline and incarceration. Schools end up as hostile environments that recreate the structural oppression that Black and Brown girls and TNBGNC youth face in the outside world. As a result, schools across the country have profound impacts on the physical, mental, and emotional health of youth and serve as pathways to juvenile detention. When Black and Brown girls and TNBGNC youth resist discrimination, harassment, and violence in their learning environments, they are criminalized and punished rather than protected and supported. Through advocacy and research, Tyahija will challenge these structural forces and advocate for the equity of the Black and Brown girls and TNBGNC youth.

Fellowship Plans

Tyahija will build cultural competencies and knowledge; educate community members and youth; and eliminate sexual, gendered, and racial biases in the community. They will host pro bono legal clinics on the juvenile legal system and its victimization of Black and Brown girls and TNBGNC youth and community events on institutionalized barriers. Finally, they will develop a resource guide for legal professionals.

The Project

Sarah provided individualized, holistic legal advocacy to juveniles in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago and created the first resource center for Chicago pro bono attorneys who wish to practice in juvenile court.

North Lawndale is a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago where more than 1,500 youths are arrested annually. The majority of youth in all of Illinois who are incarcerated for drug offenses come from North Lawndale. Additionally, more than 70 percent of North Lawndale’s youth live in poverty, and fewer than 40 percent graduate high school. These juveniles need more than legal representation. They need comprehensive services beyond the courtroom, including mentoring, job training, and social work sensitive to their developmental needs. Lawndale Christian Legal Center provides holistic representation, integrating legal and social services to walk with juveniles every step of the way as they move through, and ultimately away from, the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Highlights

  • Represented more than 20 youth under the age of 18 in criminal cases in juvenile and adult court
  • Won two motions to quash arrest for teenagers unlawfully stopped by police, leading to the dismissal of their cases
  • Worked holistically with Lawndale Christian Legal Center’s team of social workers to ensure that youth clients are embraced by their communities, restored from trauma, and empowered to move beyond their involvement in the criminal justice system

The Project

Erin will create a medical-legal partnership with a mental health provider serving veterans to promote better treatment outcomes allowing veterans and families to sustain healthy, stable, civilian lives.

Since 2001, more veterans have died of suicide than of combat-related injuries. As many as 15,200 service members returning to Illinois from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe depression. PTSD often creates instability at work and at home, increases the risk of suicide, and causes other serious health and socio-economic issues. In Illinois, veterans are overrepresented among the homeless: 13% of the homeless population can claim veteran status, even though only 6% of the non-homeless population are veterans. In addition to homelessness, nearly 1 in 5 young veterans in Illinois live below 200% of the poverty line. Many homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless cite legal issues as the cause. The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Office of General Counsel has urged that an end to veteran homelessness requires investment in legal care. Despite this need, the VA has no statutory authority to provide or pay for legal services for veterans.

The Project

Jackie used multi-strategic legal advocacy to help low-income students of color with disabilities gain access to research-based, effective literacy programs, closing the achievement gap for these students and increasing school success.

In Chicago, there are over 50,000 students with disabilities (SWD), 87% of whom are low-income and 90% of whom are children of color. Students with poor reading skills are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, and be the victim or perpetrator of a crime involving violence. Since by the fourth grade, only 15% of SWD achieve basic literacy in Chicago, tens of thousands of children are vulnerable to these outcomes. Despite this critical need, prior to Jackie’s Project there was no public interest attorney exclusively dedicated to helping SWD in Chicago achieve literacy. This gap in legal representation combined with CPS’ non-compliance with state and federal special education law has stagnated the reading achievement of SWD. Jackie’s Project seeks to reverse the current trend in which students are improperly evaluated, given ineffective instruction year after year, and eventually disengage from school. Achieving literacy will help SWD develop the skills and prospects to break the cycle of poverty and violence that has been associated with Chicago for far too long.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Jackie has:

  • Provided free special education legal help to 309 families
  • Won a hearing where she successfully argued a statute of limitations exception should be applied, allowing the complaint to move forward
  • Helped hundreds of clients gain access to effective research-based literacy instruction

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jackie plans to use her experiences to inform her teaching as an Education Law Practicum at her alma mater. Jackie will continue to represent students in special education proceedings while developing education policy and supervising law students clinical work.