The highly-competitive fellowship will cover Allen’s salary and benefits following her law school graduation while she works at the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP), offering legal representation to students who qualify under that program’s guidelines.
Allen’s project is specifically designed to increase access to legal services for black males between the ages of 12 and 18 who are eligible to attend secondary school, but whose unmet civil legal needs may be affecting their academic performance. “Young black males drop out of school at a higher rate than any other demographic and have a one-in-three chance of going to prison during their lifetimes,” she wrote in her proposal to the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. “Black male youth could experience better life outcomes if their basic educational, health, and economic needs were better met.”
Allen worked with GLSP to tailor her proposal to fit the particular needs of the student population in Bibb County, the most populated county in Central Georgia, where over 35 percent of children live in poverty and fewer than 60 percent of students — who are predominantly black — graduate from high school.
Having worked with at-risk youth prior to attending law school, Allen is passionate about helping reverse the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. “I believe that a major source of these poor outcomes [for black males] are due to us as a society having failed and disregarded them,” she said. “By emphasizing this target population in my project, my aim is primarily to ensure that, at least with the work I do, they are not once again left out. And though my project targets this specific group, I hope that my project will eventually provide greater access to needed legal services for all children in Central Georgia who experience disproportionate limitations on their potential for success.”
“In Veronica we saw the makings of a national leader,” said Susan Butler Plum, director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. “The idea that she wanted to return to a community with which she was familiar from having gone to college there, to advocate for people at the greatest risk — young black men — was enormously important. We see education as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.” The Foundation funds self-directed projects at public interest organizations that offer legal services to poor, elderly, homeless, and disabled citizens, as well as those who are deprived of their civil or human rights.
Assistant Dean for Pro Bono and Public Interest Kim Bart ’02 called Allen’s receipt of the Skadden Fellowship a “well-deserved honor,” noting Allen’s many public interest contributions at Duke Law, including her work on the Street Law project and in the Children’s Law Clinic, service on the public interest student leadership board, and efforts to launch a student group to support students seeking careers in public interest. “She has pursued valuable opportunities that challenged her to develop her lawyering skills,” Bart said. “The skills she gained through these hands-on practice experiences will serve her well in her Skadden Fellowship project.”
Allen worked on issues relating to education at the Mississippi Center for Justice after her first year of law school and worked with racial-minority and low-income communities during her 2L summer at New York Lawyers in the Public Interest. Her long-term goals include working more broadly with schools and communities to keep young people in school.
Clinical Professor Jane Wettach, who directs Duke’s Children’s Law Clinic, was one of a number of Duke Law faculty and administrators who helped Allen refine her fellowship proposal. “Veronica is totally committed — with her heart as well as her mind — to the work of representing at-risk youth. I feel certain she will make tremendous contributions,” Wettach said.