Essence Kimes

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

The Project

Ashley LaRiccia advocated for unaccompanied immigrant children and their families at Lutheran Services of Georgia (LSG) by providing legal representation and developing a pro bono network to secure relief from deportation and unite families.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

In 2014, over 50,000 unaccompanied children from Central American were apprehended at the Mexico-USA border. Many of these children are escaping extreme violence in their home countries. There remains an overwhelming need for low-cost and pro bono legal representation for these children who continue to seek refuge and reunite with families by taking the risky journey through the southern border each and every day. Approximately two-thirds of children are unrepresented and without access to counsel. These children are forced to represent themselves in their removal proceedings.
In December of 2014, the Department of State introduced a new in-country refugee processing program, the Central American Minors Family Reunification Program, to help parents with certain types of legal status reunite with children living in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. There is a large demand for this service in the Atlanta area, from parents from all over the region who need the assistance of a designated Refugee Resettlement Agency, like Ashley’s host organization to gain access to the important program.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Ashley has:
• Provided legal referrals and brief advice to over 80 immigrants.
• Secured special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) for two children facing removal proceedings, including one of the first one-parent SIJS cases in the state of Georgia
• Secured asylum for a deaf minor from Central America.
• Provided access for nineteen families to the Central American Minors Family Reunification Program

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Ashley plans to:

• Relocate and start a new job in Baltimore, Maryland with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

• Ashley will be providing direct legal representation to unaccompanied children across the state Maryland in her new position with KIND.

• Continue to advocate for children in removal proceedings in Atlanta and work to bring further attention to unique challenges children and practitioners face in the Atlanta area.