“YPN5Q” is a weekly Q&A series spotlighting the state’s top young business and civic leaders and creative minds — professionals propelling change through entrepreneurship, the arts, public service, social media, and community involvement.
This week, we hear from Nekima Levy-Pounds, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the founder and director of the Community Justice Project (CJP), an award-winning civil rights legal clinic that addresses the complex issues affecting the poor and working poor.
In addition to her work with the CJP, Levy-Pounds is an active contributor to the field of civil rights and criminal justice, serving as a consultant to local civil rights organizations and community groups, and lecturing and speaking in national and international forums.
Her scholarly interests focus on African-Americans and the law, the impact of the war on drugs on African-American children and families, the treatment of women in prisons, and intersecting issues of race, class and the criminal justice system. She also concentrates on juvenile justice issues, police and community relations, and the school-to-prison pipeline facing children of color.
Because of her work with CJP, Levy-Pounds was selected by Senator Al Franken to advise him in his decision to nominate Elena Kagan for the United States Supreme Court.
Name: Nekima Levy-Pounds
Residence: Brooklyn Park
Current job title: Associate Professor of Law; Director, Community Justice Project
Current employer: University of St. Thomas
1. What was your first job?
My first paid legal job was as a fellow at The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C.
2. What’s the most challenging aspect of your current job?
Finding adequate time to multi-task and manage a wide range of projects that address a variety of civil rights issues while also teaching, lecturing and engaging in scholarly research and writing. It’s the most fun job that I have ever had because there is a lot of room for creativity and ingenuity, but it’s also the most challenging job that I have undertaken, given the myriad social justice issues we work to address and the time it takes to do high quality work. The fact that I work with great people makes it easy to come into work each day.
3. What are you passionate about? What do you advocate for?
I am most passionate about addressing racial inequities and disparities in the adult criminal and juvenile justice systems. One of my greatest desires is to see an end to the school-to-prison pipeline facing young African American men. I am also an advocate for racial justice and equal opportunity, especially for those who are experiencing poverty and economic disenfranchisement.
4. Which living person do you most admire?
My mom is the person whom I most admire because she taught me to have strength and courage in the face of adversity. She also taught me to continue to persevere even when I feel like giving up or am facing discouragement. Her example helps me to keep forging ahead in the fight for social change and for that I am truly grateful.
5. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
This is a tough one. I have lived in several different states and traveled to a number of beautiful countries. Of all the places that I have visited, South Africa felt most like home. The people were friendly and beautiful, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was breathtaking.
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