Johane Severin ’08 was recently selected as a member of the newly created Racial Justice Training Institute (RJTI), a groundbreaking program that prepares advocates to advance issues of racial justice.
Launched in May by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the program’s overarching goal is to develop a network of equal justice advocates like Severin, each committed to advancing a coordinated racial justice advocacy agenda.
Over the next six months, these advocates will be trained to recognize the impact of structural racism and to develop the skills necessary to engage in strategic analysis and creative race-based advocacy. The Institute provides skills-based training on all facets of advocacy and creates a network of support and mentoring for equal justice advocates nationally.
“We cannot hope to advance justice and opportunity for low-income people without recognizing the role that race plays in perpetuating poverty,” said John Bouman, President of the Shriver Center. “The Racial Justice Training Institute will give legal advocates the tools to identify race-based inequities and to effect broad-based change on behalf of low-income people of color.”
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The inaugural class of fellows, selected from a pool of nationwide applicants, includes 38 attorneys from 19 organizations in 11 states. In addition to serving a diverse population of clients, fellows will take part in interactive webinars and small group meetings conducted through the Shriver Center’s online campus, as well as attend a four-day in-person session hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Severin, who was born in Haiti and grew up on the Upper West Side, said she has always had an interest in the law. Her practice is now focused on immigration law.
“I wanted to be a lawyer who could help the people I know in particular,” she said. “Immigration has always had a big impact on my community in terms of the uneven application of immigration laws.”
At the Law School, she became a member of the Safe Harbor Clinic, which led to an internship at Lutheran Social Services in their immigration group, working on asylum applications and representing clients in removal proceedings. Severin was also an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow and a Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, City Bar Justice Center’s Naturalization and Immigration Women & Children’s Project.
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Following graduation, she joined Staten Island Legal Services as a staff attorney; she was promoted to Senior Attorney in 2011 and to Supervising Attorney in 2012. Severin represents immigrant clients in all manner of immigration matters including family-based petitions, naturalizations, and removal proceedings. She was also instrumental in beginning an outreach program to the significant number of immigrants on Staten Island.
“When I first joined Staten Island Legal Services, our family law department was seeing more undocumented clients,” she recalled. “I went to community meetings held by the various cultural affinity groups and courted them to let them know that we were here for them.”
Currently in her first month of training, Severin said she hopes to bring a new set of skills geared toward tackling issues of racial justice to her position with Legal Services NYC.
“The goal of the RJTI is to create a network among public interest lawyers to look at cases from a racial justice lens and to understand how institutional, structural, and personal racism affect policy development, implementation, and access,” she said. “I hope to use the lessons of my training going forward in my work.”