The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Proskauer, Pro Bono and Pride: A Q&A with LGBTQ+ Nonprofit Founder Michael Narain

This post contains sensitive subject matter.

We sat down with Michael Narain, the founder of Out My Closet, to talk about the vital role this nonprofit organization plays in the lives of at-risk LGBTQ+ youth and how Proskauer’s pro bono collaboration has helped to advance the organization’s mission.

In your own words, what does Out My Closet do and why is this work important and impactful?

LGBTQ+ youth experience disproportionate levels of homelessness and mental health issues, and are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and sexual exploitation. Out My Closet is a nonprofit organization that attempts to combat those trends by offering resources such as clothing, counseling, and connectivity to LGBTQ+ youth. We provide direct social services that feature face-to-face connection such as clothing pop-up shops, as well as support through social media platforms that connect LGBTQ+ youth to each other and to our volunteers. Out My Closet is staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, LGBTQ+, of color, immigrants, and the first in their families to be college-educated. There’s a real power in seeing someone not much older than you who made it through – and in being helped by someone who can understand and relate to your personal experiences. Continue Reading

Medical Report Supports Urgent Need for Humane Immigration Policies

The families and children migrating from Central America have suffered terrible traumatic experiences, and a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a non-profit advocacy group, addresses the serious, long-term medical consequences of this trauma. These important findings provide compelling support for more humane immigration policies, and inform best practices for lawyers working with immigration clients.

Trauma Suffered by Young Migrants

Multiple studies link trauma to long-term negative health outcomes, including chronic disease, impaired cognitive development, and mental health conditions. With analysis by medical school faculty and students from Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, the report is significant for its sole focus on child asylum seekers. Out of the 183 children in the study, nearly 80% experienced direct physical violence, 71% experienced threats of violence or death, 59% witnessed acts of violence, and almost 20% experienced repeated sexual violence or exploitation. Sixty percent of the children experienced some form of gang violence, and 47% experienced violence perpetrated by family members. A constant theme among the children was the lack of protection from law enforcement in their home countries. (Eighty-nine percent were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.)  Many also reported traumatic experiences during transit to the U.S. through dangerous terrain, with inadequate food or water, where they remained vulnerable to continued acts of violence. Continue Reading

Criminal Justice Reform in America: Confronting Reentry Challenges

The United States comprises about 4% of the world’s population – and houses about 22% of the world’s prison population.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that each year approximately 650,000 people are released from prison.  Helping this population with a successful transition following incarceration is not only critically important to the individuals involved, but to society generally.

This week, Proskauer partnered with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) to host a panel discussion addressing reentry challenges for previously incarcerated individuals and their families. Panelists included Judy Whiting, General Counsel at the Community Service Society of New York; Rob DeLeon, Associate Vice President of Programs at The Fortune Society; Esta Bigler, Director of Cornell University ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program; and Gwen Washington, Director of Pro Bono at DC Law Students in Court. They analyzed barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated population, which is disproportionately drawn from minority and low income communities, and highlighted initiatives that offer solutions, including legal assistance in petitioning the court to seal old convictions and family law consultations to ease the reentry process. Continue Reading

Increasing Health Awareness through Hip Hop Music

In recent years, increased transparency into the nutritional value of our food has enabled consumers to make more informed decisions on their own eating habits, knowing that their choices directly correlate with their overall health. Leaders behind this movement are hopeful that initiatives such as the new laws on food labeling that require calorie counts, fats, and sodium levels to be included on menus will encourage healthier selections. However, the effectiveness of these or other health education initiatives has often been criticized as unsustainable or ineffective, especially within high poverty communities and among youth.

In 2005, frustrated by the lack of health information in these high-need areas, Dr. Olajide Williams, then a doctor at Harlem Hospital Center, proposed an innovative technique to promote health education in these at-risk communities. His big idea – to communicate important health information through a catchy rap song. Three years later in 2008 he founded Hip Hop Public Health, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering positive health behavior change through the power of hip-hop music. Their methods are unique, and the premise is simple – by providing youth with information on health and nutrition through a catchy medium, they empower them to make healthier choices, and help reduce preventable poor health conditions and childhood obesity. The organization has recruited the talents of many artists including Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D and DMC. A full library of health-related hip-hop tracks now lives on the organization’s website for easy access by students all across the globe. Continue Reading

In Defense of Immigration

In A Nation of Immigrants, President John F. Kennedy traced America’s mixed record of embracing new immigrants, and then emphasized the benefits of immigration as he argued in favor of reforming the system. “Nativism failed,” he concluded, “not because the seeds were not there to be cultivated, but because American society is too complex for an agitation so narrowly and viciously conceived to be politically successful.”

More than 50 years later, American society has grown more complex but now finds itself with increasingly restrictive immigration policies. During a panel discussion hosted at Proskauer’s New York office this month, Valarie McPherson, Savanna Sosa and I surveyed recent developments in immigration policy, especially as they relate to restricting asylum, and shared insights from our recent trip to Mexico, and Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan advocacy and research organization, addressed how we can change the immigration narrative for real reform.  Continue Reading

Protecting the Rights of Louisiana Deaf Probationers and Parolees

In 2016, Proskauer, together with the Advocacy Center of Louisiana and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, filed a pro bono litigation in Louisiana federal court with the goal of securing qualified and certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing probationers and parolees under the supervision of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC) who needed ASL interpreters to communicate effectively with their probation and parole officers.

In this case of first impression, the stakes were high—without qualified and certified ASL interpreters, our clients and other affected individuals were at significant risk of not being able to comply with their probation or parole because they simply could not understand what they were being told.  In fact, individuals have been re-incarcerated in some cases for failing to comply with their probation due to the language barrier caused by hearing loss or deafness.

Over the course of approximately three years of litigation, the team interviewed countless witnesses, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and conducted more than 10 depositions of LDPSC employees and contractors, and engaged in expert discovery.

We are pleased to announce that while preparing for an August trial date, the parties reached a favorable settlement that provides meaningful protections for our clients and all affected individuals under the LDPSC’s supervision. The settlement agreement requires the LDPSC to conduct communication assessments on an annual basis to determine whether an affected individual requires a qualified, certified ASL interpreter (or auxiliary aid) to communicate effectively, and, if required, to provide one at intake meetings, interactions that impact the freedom or sentence of an affected individual, and at all classes or treatment programs required as a condition of supervision.

Through this settlement, deaf and hard of hearing individuals under supervision of LDPSC who need assistance to communicate effectively will receive equal access to justice.

The Proskauer team was led by partner Russell Hirschhorn, and included associates Russell Gorkin, Om Alladi, Rachel Gulotta, Samantha Shear, David Munkittrick, and Lindsey Chopin.

Adopt-a-School Concludes Its Fourth Year

We celebrate our students as we conclude our fourth year of the Adopt-a-School program, Proskauer’s signature education initiative for high school students. We leverage the expertise of our lawyers and staff to share their knowledge and experience on a variety of topics including resume writing, interview skills, financial literacy, marketing, and technology. The program currently runs in five of the Firm’s offices: New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. Students are selected to participate by the principal or guidance counselor at each office’s local Adopt-a-School partner. This year, 166 volunteers have given more than 300 hours of their time to provide meaningful mentorship and skill development to the 92 students in this year’s program.

Since the program’s inception in 2015, our primary goal has been to provide students with enrichment and resources for success in college, careers and beyond. In addition to the workshops mentioned above, we develop the soft skills our students will need to know to be successful now and in the future.

For many students, their initial visit to the Proskauer office is their first time in a formal professional setting. Their monthly visits provide an introduction to a variety of career opportunities that will be available to them in the future. And the relationships each office forms with their students are the key ingredient to the program’s success. Many of the students keep in touch after they have completed the program and share with us the exciting paths they have chosen in their education and careers.

While the core curriculum of the program is the same in each office, we strive to include additional workshops that introduce students to opportunities in their local communities. Just this month, each office coordinated unique programs for further growth and development.

  • In New York, students participated in two consecutive workshops with GrowNYC during which they toured the organization’s Union Square Greenmarket and participated in an urban farming project on Governors Island.
  • Our Boston students engaged in a thought-provoking discussion with Superintendent Colm Lydon from the Boston Police Department, exploring the role of the police in society and our local communities.
  • In Washington DC and Chicago we partnered with Bloomberg Government and Bloomberg LP respectively, who introduced students to additional career opportunities in both the private and public sectors.
  • Our Los Angeles class expressed their creative talents through a communal art project with residents at a community center operated by The People Concern, one of the firm’s non-profit partners in the area.

As coordinators of the program, we take great joy in watching the students grow throughout the school year and beyond. Many of our former students have since gone on to prestigious colleges and have ambitious aspirations for their careers ahead. Knowing that the resources Proskauer contributes may help them reach their goals makes all of our efforts worthwhile.

Proskauer’s Adopt-a-School partners for the 2018-2019 year.

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