by Kristina “KK” Kersey, Sr. Youth Defense Counsel
This is not a drill. May 15 is Gault Day! Mark your calendars.
Passover brings matzah, the Eid new clothes, Christmas brings my father commiserating with Ebenezer Scrooge while watching A Christmas Carol. Each holiday has a tradition! The Gaultiversary deserves no less.
But how does one celebrate the seminal case that contained such bangers as: “So wide a gulf between the State’s treatment of the adult and of the child requires a bridge sturdier than mere verbiage, and reasons more persuasive than cliché can provide.”1
Much like wedding anniversaries, each year fighting for youth rights means a traditional gift for the defender. Twenty years in youth defense, like myself, means you buy yourself china. Side note: Can you microwave Kraft Easy Mac on china? Asking for a friend.
I am firmly in the “pro” column for any excuse to celebrate, so let’s party like it’s 1967. (I mean, not really. There was no Kraft Easy Mac in 1967).
1. Take a boxing class!
You need to stay fit to lug those files up to court. Plus, you never know when you’ll have to defend yourself in a kangaroo court.
“Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”2
2. Change the batteries in your flashlights.
You never know when the guiding hand of counsel might need guidance.
“The child ‘requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him.’”3
3. Buy yourself an ice cream sundae . . . with the “ripest cherries”! Or the “biggest bombers.”
This is why you need confrontation of witnesses . . . and Lost to the annals of time are the contents of that lewd phone call.
4. Rock your swag.
Organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies deserve funding increases and salary increases expressly for youth defense. We are a movement of our own and not a subset of adult defense. And people need to be reminded. Kiddie court? Please see Number One, sir/madame. I just boxed a kangaroo.
5. Prank call a prosecutor.
Ask them if their fridge is running and tell them to go get it. I’m kiddddding. But you just considered it. SMH
6. Get proximate with your clients.
Plan a Know Your Rights seminar, speak at a career day, offer to volunteer at the detention center. I’ve met defenders who taught yoga, led dance classes, ran a woodshop class, and coached moot court teams. Don’t just drive through the community to get to your office.
7. Pay it forward, and pay it back, and pay it sideways.
Reach out to your local law school or undergrad, particularly HBCUs, and affinity bar groups. Mentor upcoming defenders. Reach out to the person who inspires you to be a more zealous defender and take them to lunch.
8. Remember why you became a youth defender.
Because you wanted to light your hair on fire and burn down the patriarchy? Yes! Because you answered a job posting advertised in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution? Yes! Because your report card in elementary school always said, “KK should talk less and stop distracting others during class”? Yes!
As defenders, we represent people and not policies, but while we are here, no reason why we can’t just go ahead and try to disrupt the whole inequitable, rigged system. Our new publication, Cause of Action, will give you a blueprint on how to do it. After reading the draft, my fabulous coworker HyeJi Kim had me convinced I could change the world.
9. Don’t stop learning (and believing and thinking about tomorrow and get it, get it).
Sign up for the Racial Justice Toolkit, schedule a training, join your local Gault Regional Center. And encourage others to do the same. I sincerely hope that counsel in Gault showed up at the Arizona courthouse with the SCOTUS opinion in hand and channeled their inner Good Will Hunting and asked how the Arizona court liked them apples. (Which would have been confusing because Good Will Hunting hadn’t been released in 1967.)
10. Really, just take a bike ride or head to brunch or get your nails done. Or bring bagels to the office. (But only if they are from New Jersey. Other bagels are trash.)
Because you can’t defend from an empty (coffee) cup.
And share a photo of you celebrating your Gaultiversary with #defendyouth @GaultCenter on your social media platforms of choice.
1 387 U.S. 1 at 29-30.
2 387 U.S. 1 at 28.
3 387 U.S. 1 at 36.