Ambassadors for Racial Justice
The Ambassadors for Racial Justice (ARJ) is a program—sponsored by the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative and the Gault 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 combating 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 Gault 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 2023 Ambassadors for Racial Justice
Natalie Peeples is the Director of Youth Justice Policy and Training at the Juvenile Rights Practice of the Legal Aid Society. Natalie began her Legal Aid career in 2004, in the Brooklyn office of Juvenile Rights Practice. She transferred to their Criminal Practice in 2008, where she advanced her litigation skills representing clients in serious felony and misdemeanor cases from inception to disposition, for over a decade. Many of those cases were litigated as jury trials and suppression hearings in Criminal and Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
Natalie’s passion for juvenile justice began during her clinical experience as a law student. During the clinic she represented children charged with delinquencies, and that experience sparked an interest in representing young people in the juvenile legal system. Natalie is passionate about juvenile defense and is deeply committed to bettering the lives of the children in the juvenile legal system.
“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” – Bryan Stevenson
Marangely González-Correa was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She started her bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and, in 1996, went to the University of South Carolina as part of an exchange program. She ultimately transferred to U.S.C., becoming a Lady Gamecock. In 1998, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Marketing.
She decided at a very young age that she wanted to be an attorney. In 2001, she started her legal studies at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, where she graduated with honors in 2004. While studying law, she was surprised to find that she was interested in criminal law. She worked for a summer at the Attorney General’s Office of Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, where the majority of cases she was assigned were criminal. While working on an appeal defending a guilty verdict, an alarm went off and she questioned herself… “What if this person is innocent and circumstances can prove it?” From that point on, she decided she wanted to represent people accused of committing crimes. In 2005, she started working at Sociedad para Asistencia Legal, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal services to underprivileged citizens accused of committing crimes. She was offered an opportunity in Juvenile Court, where she worked for almost four years. She witnessed the obstacles that most clients encounter and how the system criminalizes most clients because of where they live. After that experience, she was transferred to the Appeals Division in 2009, where she has worked ever since on juvenile appellate proceedings and also gives legal advice to juvenile attorneys.
“I would like to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice to bring awareness to the different forms of racism in Puerto Rico. I would also like to learn new techniques and approaches to deal with the issue of race at the appellate level and to pass that knowledge on to other defenders that work with children. At the same time, I would like to make youth aware that their circumstances are not obstacles to achieve greatness in their lives.”
Charlyn Bohland is a passionately hopeful person who believes in the power of connecting with others.
She has represented children facing the legal system for 11 years. She is a supervising attorney in the Youth Defense Department of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. In this role, she supervises and mentors a team of appellate attorneys, collaboratively works on cases, and helps to direct litigation strategy. As part of this work, Charlyn has managed the completion of a transfer guide that encourages youth defenders to raise disparate impact arguments. Charlyn also litigates appeals, and represents people who were sent to prison for extreme sentences as teenagers in parole proceedings.
For years, Charlyn’s representation focused on teenagers who were sentenced to die in prison. With the passage of Ohio’s S.B. 256, they now have a chance of release on parole. Because transfer from juvenile to adult court disparately impacts children of color, S.B. 256 is primarily a racial justice bill. It presented a tremendous opportunity to provide relief to those who were transferred and excessively sentenced. As part of the passage of S.B. 256, Charlyn volunteered to manage the implementation of the law for OPD, including developing a cadre of passionate attorneys to represent those newly eligible for hearings, fielding inquiries about the law, and working with the parole board on details of hearings.
Charlyn also coordinates quarterly statewide youth defender meetings to learn and strategize; co-chairs the Kids in Adult Prison group; and participates in the Juvenile Law Committee of the state bar association, the Racial Justice Initiative, and the Diversity and Inclusion group.
Outside of work, Charlyn is a voracious reader and loves to spend time hiking with her husband, 5-year-old child, and dogs.
“Hope is a discipline.” – Mariame Kaba
Hannah Van De Car is a Supervising Attorney at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, where she works exclusively on juvenile life without parole cases. Hannah has been with LCCR since 2016, beginning her career as a Loyola Law School Public Interest Law Fellow. In 2019, she joined the Juvenile Life without Parole Direct Representation Team at LCCR, which provides counsel to the vast majority of children facing life without parole sentences, as well as the men who have been imprisoned for decades under illegal mandatory life without parole sentences. During law school, Hannah worked for two years as a certified law student in the Juvenile Justice Clinic, pursuing her singular goal of becoming a public defender for youth. Hannah was born and raised in Hilo, Hawai’i, and is a member of the Native Hawaiian Bar Association.
“All kids stumble as they grow and learn. Black, Brown and Indigenous youth, like all children, deserve compassion and empathy as they grow. We must fight to dismantle the inherently racist system that criminalizes and punishes the normal adolescent development of children of color.”
Maria Bardo-Colon is an Assistant Public Defender in the Juvenile Division of the Duval County Public Defender’s Office (Jacksonville, FL). She exclusively handles cases in delinquency court and is the attorney assigned to crossover (youth in foster care) and previously the treatment courts – Girls Court and HOPE (Mental Health) Court. In 2019, she completed the Juvenile Training Immersion Program at Georgetown Law. She has spoken on juvenile justice panels, served as a presenter at the Department of Children and Families Summit and as a REACHing Teens Initiative Champion where she collaborated with others in the delinquency and dependency systems to better serve youth in foster care. She received her B.A. in Economics from Boston College and is a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.
“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because youth of color deserve zealous and competent representation.”
Keiler Beers is a public defender in Portland, Oregon with the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Office. In the Parent|Child Advocacy Division, he represents youth charged with crimes, as well as parents and children in child welfare/family regulation system cases. Altogether, he sees his role as defending the rights of youth and their families against government separation, punishment and surveillance.
Keiler was raised in Portland, and has since lived all over the country working in the fields of migrant humanitarian aid, gang intervention, refugee resettlement, shelter management and youth defense. He earned a B.A. from Whitman College and J.D. from New York University School of Law, where he was a Student Fellow at the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law. Within his unit, he specializes in restorative justice cases, and takes every Spanish-speaking client. He is on the advisory board of the Western Region of the Gault Center, and a member of the coordinating committee of the Restorative Justice Coalition of Oregon.
“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I have seen the devastating effects that the criminal legal system can have on youth of color, and I am eager to develop skills that will help me not only defend them, but also advocate for what they actually need.”
Imani Hollie is an Assistant State Public Defender in Green Bay, Wisconsin, specializing in youth delinquency, child protection, and emerging adult criminal cases. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Imani is an alumna a Loyola University Chicago, School of Law. Imani was a law clerk at the Cook County Public Defender Office in the Juvenile Justice Division. She also interned for Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a non-profit organization located on the Westside of Chicago, representing youth in delinquency proceedings. Additionally, Imani represented students in suspension, expulsion, and IEP meetings as a student advocate for Loyola’s SUFEO (Stand Up For Each Other!), a student-run organization that provides free information and services for K-12 students facing suspension, bullying or exclusion from school. Imani is the Associate Director of Professional Identity Formation at Loyola University Chicago, School of Law teaching a diversity, inclusion, and equity course to first year law students.
“I am excited to be an Ambassador for Racial Justice because I want to equip youth defenders with the tools to disrupt a system designed to perpetuate racial injustice. I want to empower my clients by amplifying their lived experiences so they no longer have to persevere through racism but conquer it.”
Gavriella Roisman is a Staff Attorney at Lone Star Justice Alliance advocating for youth and adult survivors of human trafficking and intimate partner violence, and youth who were tried in the adult criminal legal system and given harsh sentences. Ms. Roisman has a background in education and special needs, and has worked in multiple community organizations within Austin, Houston, and Los Angeles, with a focus on engagement and outreach. She previously served as Deputy Legal Program Director and Legal Clinical Supervisor at the Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project, Adjunct Professor of the Street Law course, and led the Education Rights Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center. Ms. Roisman provided pro-bono legal services for youth in the Fifth Ward in collaboration with the Center for Urban Transformation and Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy, as well as a guardian ad litem and educational surrogate for youth with dual system status in Harris County.
Ms. Roisman sits on the Harris County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Steering Committee, Disability Rights Texas’ Reentry Committee, and the VOICES Advisory Counsel. Ms. Roisman has presented across Texas, as well as led panel discussions on trauma-informed care for youth with dual-system status and clear-concern youth within the foster care system. Ms. Roisman was a contributor to professional and layperson advocacy publications through the Center for Children, Law & Policy. She continues to teach law and advocacy-based courses for high school students in both Houston and Austin.
Ms. Roisman is a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center where she served as an Irene Merker Rosenberg scholar, Marvin D. Nathan Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, and received the UHLC Clinic Program Award for her work in the Civil Clinic, and the Yale Rosenberg Memorial Prize for legal writing.
“If we continue to remain silent, we are guilty of complicity in a system designed to subjugate, instead of providing grace to children, especially children of color. I am humbled to be working with such a deafening group of leaders and cohorts to fight for a system that is determined to treat kids as kids.”
Denis Lemus serves as Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Justice Legal Clinic at Creighton University School of Law. Denis joined the Juvenile Justice Legal Clinic directly after graduating law school and has been committed to public interest work and addressing issues related to equal access to justice.
During law school, he spent two years as the law clerk for the Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic representing low-income clients before joining the Juvenile Justice Legal Clinic as a law student in his final year. While with the Juvenile Clinic he began representing youth accused of delinquencies and status offenses in Douglas County, Nebraska as well as providing educational advocacy for system-involved youth. This experience led Denis to pursue a career in youth defense, with the desire to effectuate change both in his jurisdiction and on a national level.
Denis graduated with a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and received his J.D. from Creighton University School of Law. He has spent both his professional and student legal career helping individuals who would otherwise have to forego representation. Denis strives to break the mold of how a typical lawyer should look and act and strives for authenticity in everything he does.
“What you look like or how you identify should have no effect on how you are treated in the eyes of the law. Youth of color deserve to be able to explore adolescence without being disproportionately targeted by the judicial system. I am excited to become an Ambassador for Racial Justice because it will help me stay true to the reason I became a lawyer: to be an advocate for the historically marginalized.”