The Ambassadors for Racial Justice (ARJ) is a program—sponsored by the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative and the National Juvenile Defender Center—for defenders who are committed to challenging racial injustice in the juvenile legal system. The program aims to grow the number of juvenile defenders and juvenile justice advocates equipped to develop strategies to combat racial inequities in their respective jurisdictions and to facilitate difficult conversations on race.

We aspire that our Ambassadors, dispersed throughout the nation, will partner with organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, and schools to host and lead trainings related to racial justice, as well as spearhead legislative reform and social media campaigns that involve juvenile justice stakeholders and youth within their communities. The program expects to embolden a group of well-trained, diverse juvenile defenders and juvenile justice advocates who may go on to become policy advocates, judges, and legislators, to represent minority viewpoints, empower communities of color, and systemically reform our juvenile legal system. We recognize that combatting systemic racial inequities within the juvenile legal system requires efforts outside of litigation and requires advocates in various spaces. We believe that supporting a cohort of defenders to engage in work that transcends beyond legal advocacy will allow for long-term sustainable results within the juvenile legal system.

As part of a year-long program, the Ambassadors are required to complete capstone projects of their own design. They may host/lead trainings related to racial justice for juvenile defenders in their local jurisdiction; spearhead legislative reform in their local jurisdiction; prepare a social media campaign related to racial equity and youth rights; or create an internship program that encourages students of color to pursue careers in juvenile defense work. In doing so, we aspire to have youth voices integrated in each project through collaboration with defenders.

The ARJ program is part of the racial justice initiatives launched by Professor Kristin Henning, and the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) team in partnership with the National Juvenile Defender Center. In 2018, JJI launched and expanded a number of racial justice projects designed to assist youth of color in the juvenile legal system who face significant hurdles to success and to improve the juvenile defense practice by training defenders on emerging racial justice issues such as implicit racial bias and race and adolescence.

Meet the 2021 Ambassadors for Racial Justice

Photo of Mykisha Atisele

Mykisha Atisele has been an attorney with the Office of the Public Defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit in Lee County, Florida for over 15 years. She was educated at Wingate University and Florida State University School of Law. While working in the Lee county branch of the Office of the Public Defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit, Mykisha has specialized in Juvenile Delinquency almost exclusively for the past 14 years.

“I’m excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because race is a social construct, but racism is 100% real & needs to be challenged wherever it hides.”

Photo of Nicole Duncan

Nicole Duncan is a 2016 graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California. She currently works in the Juvenile Division at the Denver Regional Office of the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office. After working with Gideon’s Promise her 1L year, it became clear to Nicole that she wanted to work in youth public defense. She has worked with Gideon’s Promise, the ACLU of Los Angeles, Connie Rice’s Advancement Project, and the NAACP National Headquarters. Nicole is an active member of the Sam Cary Bar Association, Colorado Attorneys Against Police Violence, and the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center. Nicole worked to convince the Sam Cary Bar Association’s membership to support the removal of Student Resource Officers from schools and Denver Public Schools subsequently unanimously voted to have SROs removed. When the State charges or threatens to charge her clients as adults, Nicole actively uses her knowledge of adolescent brain development to fight to keep her clients in the juvenile system and to make sure the court hears their story and experience. Nicole cares deeply about the youth she represents and is particularly passionate about ending the overrepresentation of youth of color in the criminal legal system. Nicole is the sole African-American juvenile public defender in the Colorado State Public Defender System, and works with several of her colleagues to help increase the number of public defenders of color in the system. She mentors and encourages aspiring lawyers of color to not succumb to the narrative that they “aren’t good enough” to be lawyers.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I want to continue learning how to fight a system that thrives on the insidious corroding thread of dehumanizing and caging children of color. I want to use my skills to disrupt and challenge everything that says that because of race, our kids’ lives don’t matter.”

Photo of Ashley Morse

Ashley Morse is a staff attorney with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office (WI SPD). She currently works in the Janesville trial division, also serving as a training coordinator for the Agency. She received her B.A. in History and African American Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2006, and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 2009. Ashley has been working for the WI SPD since 2010, beginning her career in the Hudson trial office. In the last year, Ashley has transitioned to having a full-time juvenile caseload. During her time at WI SPD, Ashley has presented at annual trainings to certify private bar attorneys to take conflict and overflow juvenile cases. In 2015, she completed the NJDC Juvenile Training Immersion Program held at Georgetown Law. In addition to presenting as a speaker at the State Public Defender New Lawyer Training, Ashley is also a Certified JTIP Trainer, earning the certification in 2019. Ashley is a member of the Rock County Trauma Task Force and also serves on a local committee focused on reducing racial disparity among youth entering the juvenile justice system.

“I’m excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because racial justice should be an experience not just a dialogue.”

Photo of Brittany Mobley

Brittany Mobley is the Juvenile Services Program Deputy Chief within the Community Defender Division of the Public Defender Service (PDS). She first joined the Juvenile Services Program for PDS in July 2015 as a staff attorney. Prior to PDS, Brittany was a senior attorney at the Children’s Law Center within their Guardian ad Litem Program representing children in the abuse and neglect system for about four years. Brittany joined the Children’s Law Center immediately after graduating from Howard University School of Law. While at Howard Law, she worked as a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic representing adults in misdemeanor cases and as a law clerk for PDS in both the Juvenile Services Program and the former Community Reentry Program. Currently, Brittany sits on the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council, is the Vice-Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the American Bar Association, is an advisory board member for the Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center, and is a founding member and National Secretary of the Black Public Defender Association.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I want to help defenders and advocates in defense-focused offices to tackle the inherent anti-Black and –Brown racism that exists in the juvenile legal system. I look forward to working to dismantle this dehumanizing system that refuses to treat children of color as children!”

Photo of Diego Padro

Diego J. Padro was born in the South Bronx in New York City and had his primary education in the NYC public school system. He attended LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and was trained as a classical singer. His interest in social justice was inspired by his father, who was an anti-war activist, and his experiences growing up in NYC seeing the negative impacts of biased policing in his community. After his stint in the Army, he earned a B.A. from Adelphi University in 1995 and then graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1999. Diego has practiced criminal defense, delinquency, and traffic defense in Cincinnati, Ohio for twenty-one years with nine of those years spent exclusively in juvenile delinquency. He is currently the Senior Trial Counsel/Team Lead with the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office, Juvenile Division. He has been with the office since 2013.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because the time has come to aggressively push for systemic change in the criminal legal system in the area of race and I want to be a part of that necessary effort.”

Photo of Michael Pearson

Michael Parson practices law as an Assistant Public Defender in Hidalgo County, Texas supervising its juvenile division. He believes that the youth population is extremely vulnerable to abuses in the legal system and fights vigorously to ensure that they are able to exercise their legal rights. Michael diligently works, with the cooperation of his clients, to empower his clients with dignity, to give a voice to his clients in court, and to aid in addressing his clients’ legal issues in a tailored, individual manner geared toward promoting success rather than merely punishment. He has presented to civic groups, attorneys, law enforcement, and juvenile probation officers on legal topics such as an overview of juvenile law, the detention of youth, and youth with mental health issues in the juvenile system. Additionally, Michael has been on a task force to draft and implement court procedures to be used during the COVID-19 pandemic which is currently being used in Hidalgo County and served as a model procedure for other counties in Texas. Michael has been selected to participate in the Juvenile Training Immersion Program for the State of Texas and serves on the Juvenile Law Committee for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I can participate in effecting change in our justice system in both meaningful and positive ways.”

Photo of Latasha Prempeh

Latasha Prempeh is an Assistant Public Defender in Georgia’s Western Judicial Circuit which is comprised of Clarke and Oconee County. Since 2013 she has represented indigent juvenile and adult clients in delinquency, child in need of services, and dependency proceedings. Latasha has served in many of the Court’s roles including child’s attorney, parent’s attorney, and Guardian Ad Litem. Latasha earned her B.A. magna cum laude in Public Service from Macon State College. She received her J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law where she served as Public Service Fellow after graduation. Latasha participates in numerous specialized trainings and programs on juvenile justice reform and improvement initiatives. In order to better serve her clientele, Latasha has participated in the JDAI Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement, county implicit bias trainings, and statewide court improvement initiatives. After law school, Latasha decided to stay local to UGA after seeing the wide disparity between the college community and the community of Athens as a whole. She currently resides in Oconee County with her husband and three children.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I want to empower and provide my clients with the best possibility of a successful outcome to not only their cases but also their lives. By challenging and changing the racial biases within the juvenile justice system I will be able to provide my clients with a fair and objective chance at success.”

Photos of Yvonnda Summers

Yvonnda Summers is an Omaha native. She decided at the age of six years old when her biological father was sentenced to a prison term, that she wanted to be a public defender to help other families avoid the pain of separation. She chose to stay close to her mom, step-dad, and younger sister and attend the community service focused Jesuit school, Creighton University. During her time at Creighton, she joined the historically Black sorority of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., became the President of the African-American Student Association and graduated with her B.S.. She continued to Creighton School of Law where she won top awards in Juvenile Offender Law, traveled nationally with the Mock Trial Team, represented her class as the commencement speaker for graduation, and was awarded for her outstanding service to the community. As she grew into a young attorney, she became even more impassioned to serve the indigent community, her Black community, and to better the criminal justice system as a whole. After law school, she moved to Virginia where she became a public defender in the city of Portsmouth. There, she was entrusted with high profile cases after only 2 years of practice. Yvonnda was integral in establishing the Mental Health Court for the City of Portsmouth and served the youth of the city when the Commonwealth was seeking to enhance punishment to adult terms. Always wanting to serve her hometown, she moved back to Omaha where she joined the public defender’s office. She continues to use her skills from her life experiences to serve low income, under-represented youth and adults. Every day she is an activist in the courtroom arguing for fair treatment, upholding the Constitution and giving a voice to those who need to be heard in the criminal justice process.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because the smallest voices in our communities deserve to have the loudest voices.”

Photo of Erin Swinney

Erin Swinney has been an Assistant Public Defender in Robeson County, North Carolina since 2017. She is the primary attorney assigned to represent children charged with felonies and misdemeanors in juvenile court in addition to handling misdemeanors, traffic, and non-compliance cases for adults. She believes that while the criminal justice system often focuses on reducing recidivism for adult defendants, there are not enough resources being allocated to prevent children from being introduced to the criminal system at early ages. Erin received her B.A. in English (summa cum laude) in 2011 from Claflin University and then her J.D. (cum laude) in 2014 from North Carolina Central University School of Law. She is also a member of Gideon’s Promise Class of 2018 and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.. In her free time, she assists her educator family and friends with creating and maintaining virtual classrooms.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because of the opportunity to bring much-needed resources to not just the court system of Robeson County, but the actual school systems to develop more alternatives to criminal prosecutions and stop the school to prison pipeline.”

Photo of Angeles Zaragoza

Angeles Zaragoza is a juvenile defense attorney with the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender’s Office. In this capacity, she represents youth incarcerated in the Division of Juvenile Justice, while also providing educational advocacy for system-involved youth throughout Los Angeles County. Previously, she worked as a public defender in Sacramento County, California and as a federal defender for the Eastern District of California. Angeles earned her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA School of Law. In law school, she specialized in the Public Interest Law and Policy Program and the Critical Race Studies Program, focusing on the intersectionality of race and law. A proud Chicana, Angeles was raised by farmworker immigrants in the Napa Valley. She resides in East Los Angeles where she and her husband are raising two young boys, ages 1 and 3.

“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I want to gain the tools and courage to shine a light on systemic racism in Los Angeles and the greater field of juvenile justice. I look forward to being part of a community of inspiring defenders who seek to affect change in their own practice and communities.”