OpenDoors’ 2016 Laureate Acceptance Speech
By Yolanda Fair (pictured far right)
Thank you all very much for this honor. It means a lot and I am very grateful to be able to work in a position that I love and in a position where I am able to advocate for and help so many amazing people.
Today, we live in a world where people often find themselves in the criminal justice system because of inequality and disadvantages. As a public defender, we are able to advocate for individuals who wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer on their own. We advocate for those who are facing homelessness, dealing with mental health issues, and for those who would often be voiceless. In the United States, 80 percent of criminal cases are handled by public defenders. It’s an honor to be able to serve the community and it’s an honor that our clients allow us to represent them.
One of the reasons I became a public defender was to help others navigate the criminal justice system. For many of the kids we represent, being in court in one of the scariest experiences they may have. They walk into the courthouse and then into the courtroom. They see a judge in a black robe, a bailiff, and in some cases they see other kids and other people locked up. It can be terrifying not knowing what could happen. One of the most common questions I get is, am I’m going to jail today? Being able to explain the process and protect their rights is one of my main motivators for being a public defender. As a public defender, we are able to speak up for those who may not be able to speak for themselves. We are able to advocate and make sure people do not lose their rights.
Being a juvenile defender in particular drew me to this type of work. Juvenile court is one of the most important courts in my opinion. It is the court where we can often prevent children from entering the adult criminal system. I am very appreciative of the work that OpenDoors does to help children and my clients. They do amazing things before kids ever get in trouble, but they also help children after they enter the court system. They can provide educational stability and support that can help prevent further charges and give children the confidence and tools that they need to make it through a chaotic time in their lives.
Thank you all for your support and for this honor.