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Nekima Pounds

Attorneys of the Year: Nekima Levy-Pounds

Promoting honest conversations about race and poverty

Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds is busy. She is a professor, activist, writer and mom. And, she is making a difference.

Levy-Pounds serves as the founding director of the Community Justice Project for the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The project began as a partnership between the law school and the NAACP’s St. Paul branch in 2006. Today, the project fosters and inspires up-and-coming lawyers to serve underserved communities and youths in the Twin Cities. Students use their legal research, writing, and advocacy skills to negotiate with government stakeholders, conduct town-hall forums, and produce think-tank-like reports. The project is raising awareness around the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and is partnering with Ramsey and Hennepin County on juvenile justice initiatives. The Community Justice Project also founded its own nonprofit — Brotherhood Inc., which helps young, at-risk, African American men avoid gangs and the criminal justice system.

In addition to her work with the Community Justice Project, Levy-Pounds chaired the state’s advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil rights. In January, the committee issued a report assessing the high unemployment rate among Minnesota’s minority groups. The report identified issues, but also proposed solutions. In her letter introducing the report, Levy-Pounds wrote, “Although not everyone may agree that race is a factor, it is important that we acknowledge the role that racial bias may play in fueling these intolerable disparities and be willing to have honest conversations about issues at the intersection of race and poverty.”

In the wake of this past-year’s police shootings, Professor Levy-Pounds emerged as a powerful voice within the Twin Cities’ community. She organized local vigils in honor of slain 18-year-old Michael Brown; moderated community meetings to address police accountability; and published an open letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges in the Star Tribune addressing “abusive police practices” of the Minneapolis Police Department.

She has already received a string of accolades, landing on Lawyers of Colors’ “50 Under 50 List” and receiving the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Diversity Award for her “outstanding commitment toward increasing diversity in the legal profession.” We are proud to add one more honor to the list. Her law students call her PLP, but we’ll call her Attorney of the Year.

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