The spirit of giving in support of families participating in the Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program is always alive and well, but this holiday season, two enterprising members of University of Baltimore’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA) raised that spirit to a new level. Sheena Williams inspired her friend and fellow BLSA member Kyauna Skinner, and together they tapped friends and family and scoured thrift shops for khakis and uniform tops. The result: 109 khaki items (pants, shorts, and skirts) and 43 uniform tops, up from 30 khaki items last year—a 500% increase. This spectacular cache of uniform items offers yet another powerful weapon in the TCP’s arsenal to combat truancy year-round.
“The uniform drive is another piece of our holistic approach to truancy,” explained Eliseba Osore, the TCP Social Worker. “This really does make a difference in the lives of the kids. Something as simple as an extra pair of khakis can change their whole outlook. You can refer students to community resources, but referrals take time, and there are waiting lists. With the support of the University of Baltimore community, we can do something immediately to help these students.”
Sheena Williams, a third-year University of Baltimore law student who did her undergraduate work at Georgia State University, chose UB specifically because of its reputation in family law and its focus on practical experience and community impact. As a 2014–2015 CFCC Student Fellow, Sheena found an outlet for her passion to work on issues that will make a difference in the lives of challenged populations in Baltimore City. Why uniforms? Sheena recalled a transformational moment: “I was in East Baltimore right before the city schools started this year, chatting with a woman who was talking about how thankful she was for a program that gave out free uniforms because, without that help, her son would have had to start school a week late. I was shocked, but she talked as if this is very common.”
Kyauna Skinner, a fourth-year evening law student who works full-time for the Federal Reserve Board, had a similar experience after hearing Eliseba Osore talk about the uniform drive at a BLSA meeting. “Prior to that,” Kyauna recalled, “I had no idea that students were not going to school due to uniform issues. I think these donations help students spend more time focusing on what’s really important—school.”
Sheena, Kyauna, and other UB law students found a treasure trove of old uniforms in a wide range of sizes by asking parents and other family members to donate, and they also purchased items at Goodwill and other thrift stores.
Sheena, who did an undergraduate minor in social work, is continuing her focus on the community as she plans for her law career. “The CFCC Student Fellows Program definitely gave me an idea of what was possible in family law,” she explained. “It showed me there are ways to incorporate law into my interest in helping the community. I think that volunteering and working with underserved communities in a place like Baltimore City should be required for all law students. Regardless of what area of law you’ll go into, you’ll come in contact with individuals whose experience isn’t the same as yours.”
In addition to her work with CFCC, Sheena has interned with the Safe and Sound Campaign, volunteered with the Homeless Persons Representation Project, mentored inner city youth through SquashWise, and worked with Community Law in Action. She is currently working with other BLSA students to organize a day of events to bring high school students together with minority law students from across the U.S.
Kyauna agrees with Sheena about the importance of community-based activities for law students. “I think it is great that UB participates in these kinds of community-based projects. UB is a part of the community, and I think it is important for every member of the community to take time out to do more community service projects in an effort to uplift the community and society in general.”