Open door: High school students take pipeline program to heart

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 By Debra Talcott

Legal News

Proof that pipeline programs are successful in inspiring young men and women to set their educational goals higher, the popular Just the Beginning Foundation (JTBF) Detroit High School Summer Legal Institute recently completed its fourth year with a total of more than 100 participants, including a record 35 this summer. Started in 2011 by U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts and Cooley Auburn Hills Dean John Nussbaumer, JTBF connects high school students to college programs with the hopes of later connecting them to law school and, ultimately, to the profession.

Programs such as JTBF open doors to legal careers or other professional careers for students who may not otherwise consider themselves candidates for higher education, according to Nussbaumer.  

“Most of our participating students are from schools within the City of Detroit,” says Nussbaumer, “and many of them have had few enrichment experiences like this one that can open their eyes to the possibility of a career in the legal profession.”

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Cooley Law School, Oakland University, and the Just the Beginning Foundation – A Pipeline Organization comprise the partnership that created and sustains the JTBF Detroit program.  Additional support is generously provided by the State Bar Appellate Practice, Health Law and Young Lawyers Sections; the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association; Federal Bar Association for the Eastern District of Michigan; the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan; the Oakland County Bar Association; Ally Financial; Yazaki North America; Walmart; Strategic Staffing Solutions; the law firms of Dickinson Wright; Warner Norcross & Judd; Miller Canfield; Plunkett Cooney; Collins, Einhorn, Farrell & Ulanoff; Honigman; and individual contributor Lawrence Garcia. 

During the week-long program, students meet with volunteer attorneys and judges, visit federal court, participate in a mock trial, present oral arguments, and attend workshops on college readiness and business networking.

Three students who benefitted greatly from their experiences in this year’s program include Kyla L. Wright of Renaissance High School in Detroit, Raihaanah Safee of Redford Union High School, and Jazmin De Roa Torres of Detroit Cristo Rey High School.

Preparing to start her senior year at Renaissance, Wright is grateful to have been selected as a returning participant to the program.

“I was in the JTBF program last summer and I reapplied this year. I believe I may have stood out to the advisors because I was a very active and enthusiastic participant last year. In addition, I won second place in the oral argument last year,” says Wright.

Wright is one of those students who seems to be able to “do it all.”  She is in the Renaissance High School Student Senate, on the varsity tennis team, in Theatre Troupe, and in her school’s chapter of National Honor Society.  Also active in the community, Wright participates in Michigan Youth in Government, Detroit NAACP Youth Council, Girl Scouts, the Urban League of Detroit, the Southeast Michigan College Club - Youth Leadership Board, Delta GEMS, and in youth programs at her church.

This well-rounded young woman says her two favorite parts of the JTBF program were the mock trial and oral argument instruction.

“Last year and this year I was the defense attorney for our mock trial, which really taught me how to write opening statements and how to give examinations in court. The oral argument portion helped me understand the intensity of a case. I learned to always be prepared and to get every detail and fact about your case so you will always be on your toes when addressing the judge. In other words, make sure your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed.”

Highly motivated to earn her college degree, Wright says she will begin applying for scholarships when she returns to school in the fall.  She has narrowed her search to three colleges:  Hampton University in Virginia, Spelman College in Atlanta, and Tennessee State University.

Like Wright, Raihaanah Safee hopes to one day attend college on scholarships and grants.  A freshman at Redford Union High School in the fall, Safee has wasted no time in exploring her options by attending the JTBF program this summer.

“My mom found out about the program from her colleague and signed me up for it.  I participated in a phone interview and was selected,” explains Safee.

From the JTBF experience, Safee says she discovered that the legal field encompasses more than she’d initially realized.

“And I loved making new friends, from the instructors to the students,” she adds.

The oldest off three children, Safee is an excellent example of what it means to be well-rounded.  She participates in volleyball, softball, student council, and various clubs. No one would dare accuse this young woman of frittering away her time, even on her break from school.

“For the rest of the summer I plan on attending my student council meetings and events, Go-Girls and China Corps ant Wayne State University, volleyball camp, and Camp Al-Hilal near Port Huron,” says Safee.

Jazmin De Roa Torres will be a junior at Detroit Cristo Rey High School in the fall. Like Kyla Wright, she says the mock trial portion of the JTBF experience was the highlight of her week in the program.

“I learned how a courtroom works and how to speak in front, facing the judge. I also appreciated being able to meet attorneys, upcoming lawyers, our counsel, and the judges. From this experience I have been inspired to look into becoming an environmental advocate in the court of law.”

De Roa Torres is active in Mercy Education, New Detroit Leaders, and the WSU Go-Girls program. She looks to the adults in all of these programs and the Just the Beginning Foundation program as role models for her own future.

“My inspirations are the teachers and all of the people we met in the JTBF program.  Their faith in me has inspired me to become more.”

New this year, the program is partnering with the Detroit Youth Development Commission to provide low-income JTBF participants with paid summer internships at law firms in Detroit, funded through the State of Michigan Workforce Development Agency.  

“Special thanks to past State Bar President Tony Jenkins at Dickinson Wright,” says Nussbaumer, “for being the first to step up and convince his firm to participate in this program. We hope that others will consider following Tony’s lead.”

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